• Many environmentally-friendly products are just a return to old ways.
  • Big companies are looking to move away from disposable packaging.
  • Consumers want to cut waste and environmental harm.

Imagine a world where your coffee cup can be used again and again, or where the tissue you blow your nose into can be washed, dried and put back in your pocket. Or how about a milk bottle made of glass that never needs to be thrown away?

Amazing new environmentally-friendly technologies, or a return to the old ways of doing things?

In fact, they are both. In a bid to cut waste - much of it unbiodegradable plastic - and greenhouse gas emissions, big corporations and nimble startups are re-discovering ideas that your parents' or grandparents' generation once viewed as normal. Here are four of the best.

The re-usable tissue

Startup LastObject has already launched a reusable cotton bud, and now is seeking crowdfunding for its non-disposable tissues.

An improvement on the old-fashioned handkerchief, LastTissue comes in a silicone case: pull a clean tissue from the bottom and then stuff it back on the top after use. There are six tissues in each pack which can then be washed and repacked.

Not to be sneezed at: LastTissue
Image: LastTissue

"It’s like if a handkerchief and a tissue pack had a baby," says the company on its Kickstarter page where it has already recived pledges of $600,000.

The washable coffee cup

Back in the day, coffee and tea were served in china cups that could last as useful items forever until they broke. But the modern take-out culture means billions of non-recyclable, plastic-lined cups are thrown away every year.

McDonald's and Starbucks have begun testing 'smart' reusable cups that have radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips or QR codes for tracking, Bloomberg reported. Two independent coffee shops in California are doing trials with the cups to see how the well technology works and whether consumers engage with the slightly new way of doing things.

The eco-friendly commute

Looking for an emissions-free way to get to work? Sure, an electric car fueled by renewable energy might do it, but they are expensive and require a great deal of resources to build. What about getting back on the bike?

Around the world, cities are building bike parks, bike-sharing, bike lanes and other infrastructure to make cycling safe, fun, and even cool.

The World's Most Bicycle-Friendly Cities
Emissions-free transport.
Image: Statista

Reinventing the milkman

The Loop initiative - which has trialed in New York and Paris, aims to deliver groceries in packaging which is then returned to be washed and reused.

This is similar to how milk used to be distributed in many parts of the world - with a milkman delivering glass bottles of the stuff and picking up the empties.

Recyclable packaging
Reuse, recycle ... or dump?
Image: Terracycle

What is Loop?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The World Economic Forum has played a crucial role in connecting TerraCycle, a global waste management and recycling company, with logistics giant UPS and some of the world’s leading retailers and consumer goods companies (including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Carrefour, Tesco, Mondelēz, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars, Nestlé and Unilever) to develop and pilot a revolutionary zero-waste e-commerce system called Loop.

Loop promotes responsible consumption and eliminates waste by introducing a new way for consumers to purchase, enjoy and recycle their favorite products. Instead of relying on single-use packaging, it delivers products to consumers’ doorsteps in durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused, sometimes more than 100 times.

The Loop Model.
The Loop Model.

The Forum is helping the Loop Alliance bring the Loop model to cities around the world. Read more in our Impact Story.

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