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06/24/2022

Rethinking Recycling Efforts

Improved strategies to reuse and recover glass and aluminum can help retailers achieve sustainability goals
Marian Zboraj
Digital Editor
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Rethinking Recycling Efforts
Tomra’s reverse vending solutions for collecting, reusing and recycling aluminum and glass now have the option to issue refunds with a digital voucher.

While numerous initiatives exist to reduce the amount of plastic consumption in retail, there are still plenty of other packaging materials that can have a negative impact on the environment if not responsibly conserved. Two of the most recyclable and reusable — and often overlooked — materials are glass and aluminum. 

Greener Goals 

In 2018, 39.6% of beer and soft-drink bottles were recovered for recycling, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with 39.8% of wine and liquor bottles and 15.0% of food and other glass jars recycled. In total, 33.1% of all glass food and beverage containers were recycled. Meanwhile, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Can Manufacturers Institute, the aluminum beverage can recycling rate was 45% in 2020.

Bumping up these percentages can vastly improve retailers’ sustainability goals. In fact, glass is infinitely recyclable — unlike some plastics — without experiencing any loss in purity or quality. The Arlington, Va.-based Glass Packaging Institute points out that more than a ton of natural resources is saved for every ton of glass recycled. One ton of carbon dioxide is reduced for every 6 tons of recycled container glass used in the manufacturing process. 

The Can Manufacturers Institute also estimates that increasing the recycled content of the average can reduces its carbon footprint, since making an aluminum beverage can from recycled material results in more than 90% fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than making the container from primary material.

Consumer Collection

Seven in 10 supermarket shoppers are trying to reduce their impact on the environment, as indicated by a recent Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council North America report. Additionally, not all communities have recycling collections come to their homes. As a result, incorporating a recycling collection site at the retail level can have a direct impact on shopper loyalty. 

A convenient and easy option for grocery stores to help shoppers recycle aluminum and glass is via reverse vending machines, which collect empty and used bottles and cans in return for money or other forms of incentivization to the recycler. 

One example of reverse vending solutions for collecting, reusing and recycling aluminum and glass is Norway-based Tomra. With 82,000-plus installations across more than 60 markets, Tomra’s reverse vending machines capture 40 billion used beverage containers every year, reducing reliance on raw materials and ensuring that fewer containers end up in landfills, oceans and streets, while bringing real benefits to stores and their communities. 

Tomra’s various systems are geared toward grocery retailers of any size, with indoor and outdoor installations available. Units now have the option to issue recycling refunds not only with a traditional paper voucher, but also with a digital voucher — sent directly to the end user’s mobile phone, or via instant and secure electronic transfer to their account. Both digital payouts are enabled through the myTOMRA app.

Campbell, Calif.-based Olyns also provides reverse vending solutions. In November 2021, the company raised a $1 million seed round led by Vanedge Capital. Olyns’ eye-catching bottle collection machine is designed for high-traffic indoor locations, and its gamified mobile app provides bottle refunds and rewards. Each Olyns machine reportedly collects about 1.5 metric tons of recycled material per year.

Don’t forget partnering with CPG packaging companies like Westminster, Colo.-based Ball Corp., which supplies innovative, sustainable aluminum packaging solutions for beverage, personal care and household products. Driving category growth, the company’s Ball Aluminum Cup can be easily recycled like its aluminum can counterparts. In fact, according to Ball Corp., aluminum cans, cups and bottles can be recycled and back on a store shelf within 60 days. 

Meanwhile, big-name retailers like Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart are touting their own recycling efforts. The food retailer joined forces with soft-drink giant PepsiCo Beverages North America in late August 2021 on a pilot program to boost recycling awareness and participation in Tulsa, Okla. Shoppers were invited to bring their beverage containers to be properly recycled from Thursdays to Sundays, with encouragement to participate via the chance to earn rewards and prizes. 

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Rethinking Recycling Efforts
After Fred Meyer customers consume products that are part of Loop’s program, they drop off the packaging at designated in-store drop-off units to be picked up, cleaned, refilled and repurchased by a new shopper.

Get in the Loop

In addition to recycling efforts, retailers are accelerating initiatives in the reuse movement. 

TerraCycle’s Loop, the global reuse platform that was initially launched via e-commerce, is now moving in-store with food retailers. Loop is enabled by a multi-stakeholder coalition of manufacturers, retailers and consumers that aims to “Eliminate the Idea of Waste.” 

Loop’s movement to an in-store retail model began in Paris with Carrefour in December 2020. In  2021, Loop launched in-store at Aeon in Japan and at Tesco in the United Kingdom. The platform recently expanded to the United States with rollouts in such retailers as The Kroger Co. in October 2021. 

Loop’s business model consists of participating brands offering products in refillable, reusable glass or metal containers that are merchandised in dedicated Loop-specific displays. After customers consume the products, they drop off the empty packaging at designated drop-off units. Loop then picks up the empty containers from the store to be cleaned, refilled and made available for purchase by a new shopper.

“Loop’s goal has always been to grow, scale and be accessible to consumers around the world,” says Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Trenton, N.J.-based TerraCycle and Loop. “With the world’s largest retailers bringing Loop to physical brick-and-mortar locations, we are giving consumers what they’ve been asking for since Loop was introduced in 2019 — the ability to purchase the products they use every day in durable, reusable containers, with the convenience of shopping at their local market.”

Cincinnati-based Kroger recently strengthened its partnership with Loop in February. Through a first-of-its-kind partnership in the United States, customers can now walk into one of 25 Kroger-owned Fred Meyer stores in the Portland, Ore., area and purchase more than 20 products from leading consumer brands packaged in reusable containers.

The new Loop assortment includes well-known food and household products from a range of brands, including Arbor Teas, Cascade, Clorox, Gerber, Nature’s Heart, Nature’s Path, Pantene, Seventh Generation and Stubb’s, as well as Kroger’s own Simple Truth brand. More brands are expected to be added to the Loop product portfolio in the coming months.

“Our focus on innovative solutions as we continue on our Zero Hunger | Zero Waste journey aligns with Loop’s mission to create a convenient circular packaging platform,” notes Lisa Zwack, Kroger’s head of sustainability. “Customers are increasingly seeking out sustainable products and services that fit their lifestyle, and this collection makes it convenient. As the first grocer in America to offer these products, Kroger is pleased to take another meaningful step toward a world with zero waste.”

Be on the lookout for other reuse pioneers. For example, Algramo has developed a reuse system powered by vending machines that dispense household products into smart reusable packaging. The Chile-based company recently expanded into North America, and is now piloting is reuse systems in New York City, having previously piloted the system in its home country with retailers such as Walmart.  

Zero-waste grocers are also on the rise. With claims of being the first zero-waste grocery store, Nude Foods Market, in Boulder, Colo., has everything a traditional grocery store has — produce, prepared meals, snacks, bulk items, cleaning products, beauty products, and more — just without all of the plastic packaging. Instead, everything comes in reusable, returnable glass jars and is local, organic or rescued. Customers pay a small deposit per jar and then receive that deposit back, minus a small cleaning and sanitizing fee, to spend in the store when they return the jar. Promoting a circular economy, the jars are reused thousands of times. 

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