In the Zero Waste/Refill community, a closed loop product is typically meant to mean the manufacturer takes back the container their product is delivered in to clean, sanitize and refill it to be used again, for as many times as that container can remain intact and useable.
Another example of closed loop is compostable packaging (that is actually composted, not landfilled). This looks at the bigger system, that the packaging was made from resources that were taken from the earth and they will return to the earth to replenish it. Obviously this category hinges on some pretty big considerations like the packaging not being overly resource intensive to create, or wasteful to distribute.
Last are the products that are considered “consumable” and do not require any packaging. Think of an apple, or a bar of soap.
In traditional retail there are lots of places where a product could gain or lose packaging. An item might be individually packaged by the manufacturer. It might not be by the manufacturer but could be by the distributor or retailer. Or you could be given the option to “package” that item yourself by placing it in a plastic bag or container at the store. A shirt may come to you unpackaged, but did it arrive at the store individually wrapped in a plastic bag? That was removed from a box? That came to the store on a pallet wrapped in yards of plastic pallet tape?
These are the things conscious consumers, retailers and manufacturers think about constantly. Traditional retail has SO MUCH waste (I worked in retail for 6 years, I’ve removed A LOT of shirts from plastic bags). The raw materials were most likely shipped to the manufacturer in packaging, there was most likely scrap material when it was made, the product was likely individually wrapped, placed in a box then stacked on a pallet. That pallet was sent to a distribution center where the tape was removed (and tossed) and the box was opened so quantities of that product could be placed in a different box to then again be stacked on a pallet, wrapped in tape and shipped to a store. Where the tape was again removed (and tossed) and the box opened, the product removed from bags (discarded) and put on store shelves. This is where the consumer buys it, has it placed in another plastic bag. They then take it home, remove it from the shopping bag (discarded) and then remove it from its packaging (discarded). That one products was responsible for pounds of useless discarded plastic that did not actually contribute to the product itself.
So, what’s the solution? Until we can influence a major overhaul of retail as we know it, here are the small things we can do as individuals that make a big impact:
-If you don’t NEED it, don’t buy it. Reducing impulse purchases save waste and saves you money
-If you do NEED it, try to find it second hand or see if you can borrow it
-When you do need to buy something new, know where it comes from. Try to shop local shops, local brands, made by individuals or look into making yourself. If you don’t know where something was made, ask questions and do some research.
-DON’T FALL FOR GREEN WASHING! Do not take a brands word that something it “sustainable”, “eco-friendly”, “natural”, “recyclable”, “biodegradable” or even “compostable”. These words have lots of wiggle room and very often they just mean that under certain conditions, in certain areas these things COULD be true.
-Control what you can, bring your own bags/containers whenever possible, either don’t shop places that won’t let you or reach out to their management to let them know you want to use your own. It’s becoming more commonplace and the more they hear it, the more likely they are to change their policies.
I know we’ve all heard the now cliched phrase “We vote with our dollars”. But when it comes to retail, we really do. When you make a purchase, ask yourself what that product and packaging went through to get to you and where does it go after you. If you do this even a few times, you’ll never look at traditional retail the same.