Zero packaging waste with Loop
July 30, 2020

Together with Loop, Carrefour brings the concept of the milkman back to life. Consumers will be able to enjoy their daily groceries while producing Zero packaging waste. 

Loop’s principle has nothing new, returning your empty glass bottles was a common practice until the 90’s in France and in many geographies around the world. You would receive your milk in glass bottles and at the next round the “milkman” would collect the empty bottles so they could be used to conditionate more milk.

Thirty years later, Carrefour launches a new e-commerce model for reusable packaging. The objective is to resuscitate this sustainable habit amongst its consumers, while hoping it will become the stepstone of a more sustainable consumption. 

The deposit for the product packaging’s return is key

Since July 2020, if you order your groceries online on and opt for home delivery, you are able to buy some of your favorite products in reusable packagings. For instance, if you are looking for dishwasher tabs you have the opportunity to buy them in an aesthetic iron box instead of the single-use packaging. Similarly, if you are thirsty and are dreaming about a Coca-Cola, you can buy it in the genuine glass bottle. 

Each time you order a Loop product, you automatically pay an extra deposit, ranging from a few cents to three euros, depending on the value of the packaging. Carrefour refunds you the deposit once you return the empty packaging. And the Loop is closed!

Once empty, there is no need to clean the container or sort it out. It is either picked up from the consumer’s home or dropped off at a participating store.  The containers are then professionally cleaned and refilled by the brands in order to be sold to another consumer. 

In parallel, Carrefour refunds directly on your bank account the amount of deposits corresponding to the empties you returned. This operation can take up to a few days and it will be important to shorten the lead time as much as possible.

Loop involves new operations: reverse logistics and tracking of the containers

The major challenge in the project was figuring out how to adapt the existing distribution system for Carrefour and what tasks should be outsourced to Loop and subcontracted to service-providers.

Carrefour has, so far, set up two distribution centers that can handle the delivery of products in reusables and store empty packaging once it has been picked up from consumers.

Terracycle (aka Loop) is responsible for picking up the empty packagings in the Carrefour distribution centers. Terracycle sorts out and scans the packagings in order to refund customers’ deposits. Ecolab has been subcontracted by Loop to handle the cleaning of packagings and DHL will be responsible for the logistics. 

Initially, we setup a small cleaning facility in France and supporting capacity in UK. As volumes increase, it will be possible to invest in more local infrastructure for sorting out and cleaning to improve the environmental and economic efficiency of the operations.

In addition to the added costs of reverse logistics, Carrefour has invested in a new sophisticated IT system. It will be able to track all packaging individually and handle deposits. 

The in-store activation will increase the chances of a successful scale-up 

The next step for Carrefour will be an in-store integration in a selection of “Carrefour City” in Paris. Thus, customers will have the opportunity to buy products in reusable containers off-the-shelf and return them at drop-off points in stores.

The in-store integration is key to start building an ecosystem of stores (e.g., retailers, food service) that offer reusable packagings and dropp-off points.

In turn, we aim to prove positive consumer engagement and operational compatibility at the department store level

Paris is an appropriate trial city for a zero packaging waste model. In each parisian neighborhoods, you can find many types of grocery stores eligible for collection. They also have a large population which means many potential shoppers.

At that stage of the project, we humbly expect a difficult path towards the democratization of this reuse deposit system. However, we already dream about seeing it accessible in all our French city stores!

Don’t forget to check our other articles related to sustainability in retail!

About the Author

Sustainability project manager Romain works on the implementation of several projects aiming at bringing alternatives to single-use packaging, in direct line with clients expectations.

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