Circular logic

From the August 2019 print edition

As illogical as it sounds, there was a time when wasting certain resources was seen as a virtue. After the Second World War, some companies began marketing their goods as having disposable packaging, which apparently was a novelty at the time. One such advertisement displayed happy consumers, awash in

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.

post-war abundance, throwing packaging into the air in a display of wasteful glee. To the contemporary viewer of these ads, the whole scene appears mildly ridiculous.

Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, displayed some of these ads during a speech in the spring. Szaky spoke at the SCMA conference in Montreal last April, focusing his keynote address on reusable packaging.

Along with a fascinating history of post-war consumer packaging and attitudes toward waste, he also laid out some of the organizations that his venture, Loop, has partnered with to create more sustainable packaging options. Specifically, packaging that can be reused rather than merely discarded or even recycled.

One example is Haagen Dazs, which is working with Loop on a home-delivery service for foods (like ice cream, of course) and household goods that feature reusable packaging.

Other products Loop works on to create reusable packaging include a toothbrush for which only the end with the bristles needs to be discarded and replaced regularly. This cuts down on waste, along with the packaging that would otherwise be used to ship and display individual toothbrushes.

Such alternatives clearly support sustainability. Contemporary wisdom suggests that reuse is superior to recycling because it cuts waste out of the value chain even before it has a chance to become waste.
But what also struck me was how attractive the packaging actually was for some of these products. The ice cream containers are sleek and silver. The toothbrushes are polished and modern in appearance. The projects change an everyday, disposable item like a food container or personal hygiene into an interesting design item.

The products fascinate me because they show what’s possible. Society’s view of waste has long been as an inevitable byproduct of production. Sure, this thinking goes, it must be dealt with but it’s always going to be there. Reusable packaging short circuits that thought process—you’re preventing waste rather than managing it after it’s produced.

It also contributes to a circular economy, as the resources used to produce and package goods are kept in the value chain, producing more value, rather than discarded.

It’s also noteworthy the degree to which supply chain and procurement are integral to this process. Supply chain and procurement collaborate with suppliers, think about the packaging and, through social procurement, work to ensure communities benefit from the buying decisions that organizations make.

This helps not only to boost sustainability, but to create additional value for organizations while benefiting local communities in the process. Ultimately, it’s hard not to see the benefits.