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Recycling in retail. Why things are looking up.

At such a crucial time in human history with regard to climate change, it’s refreshing and exciting to see so many big brands starting to make recycled and upcycled materials play an increasingly important role in their supply chain.

Over the last few years in particular, it seems like the trend has gained an enormous amount of momentum, with cosmetic companies, clothing labels and even car manufacturers all jumping on the eco-wagon. With this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some of the standout initiatives from the big brands having a big impact.


In 2017, the world’s oldest jeans brand announced it would become the first in the fashion industry to make all of its products from 100 per cent recycled cotton by 2025. That’s pretty damn impressive, especially since the company claims it has already saved well over a billion litres of water through its Water<Less™ techniques since 2011. We hope other major fashion brands will soon cotton on, too.


As the saying goes, waste not want not. And Waitrose is seeing just how much customers will embrace that mantra with its Unpacked trial in its Botley Road store in Oxford. The trial will run for 11 weeks, and has seen 200 lines go plastic-free – everything from fruit and veg to wine, even dishwashing liquid. It’s beautifully presented, and there are several other eco-friendly initiatives like a station dedicated to recycling old batteries, water filters and plastic bags. There’s even an in-house chef who’ll chop your veggies any way you like!


While not technically a retailer, we were super impressed to hear of Qantas’ world-first ‘Zero Waste’ flight in May. As part of a company-wide pledge to cut 100 million single-use plastics by the end of 2020, and reduce waste by a whopping 75 per cent by the end of 2021, the Sydney to Adelaide flight apparently produced no landfill waste – although in the photo Qantas posted to their Facebook page recently, it looks like it did in fact produce a little bit. Either way it’s a big achievement, and we hope Qantas keeps it up.

Loop by TerraCycle

In a seriously ambitious move, New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle has launched its newest initiative dubbed Loop, with major brands like Nestle, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble already on board.

Although it’s only in its early-stages, if Loop is successful it will be a game-changer for packaging and recycling. The way Loop works is like this.

1. Customers purchase everyday consumables from well-known brands directly from Loop’s online store.

2. The items are delivered to the customer thanks to a partnership with UPS.

3. The customer uses the products, then pops the empty, multi-use packaging back in the large tote they originally came in.

Due to the program being in its infancy, the products are currently quite expensive. But the company hopes to quickly bring the pricing down to the same level customers would find in their local supermarket.

Oh, Canada – an honourable mention

Not a big brand but definitely a big idea, and one we felt was worth a shout-out. In case you missed it, East West Market, a family-run neighbourhood supermarket in Vancouver has devised a clever and creative way to reduce the amount of plastic bags their customers take home with them.

By emblazoning their plastic bags with embarrassing (and humorous) logos, customers are gently shamed for forgetting to bring their own reusable bags with them. Only problem is, the bags have gone super viral, with news outlets all across the world picking up the story, and people are apparently buying up the bags just to collect them. Proving that there’s no stopping a good idea, East West Market plans to continue with the funny business – except that the messaging will be printed on canvas bags instead. Bravo.

Reduce, reuse, return?

When it comes to allowing customers to return their old products, it seems like most retailers only offer this option in-store (Levis, Lush, Nike), with a few exceptions (Apple being one, Loop being another). We’re not surprised, as it’s a clever way to get loyal customers back in-store to see all the latest and greatest offerings. However, as green initiatives continue to spread, we wonder if these brands will eventually have to allow for returns via mail. We hope so, as anything that makes recycling easier can only be a good thing.

To the big brands already making great strides in recycling, we say a sincere well done. We expect that product recycling is something that will soon become expected of brands by consumers, and any brand that can show they’re taking action to lower their environmental footprint is likely to be looked upon favourably by customers, employees and investors alike.


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