Here’s the full article (and another with more info). In short, several large companies are partnering with TerracCycle (about), a company that recycles hard-to-recycle items, to offer waste-free versions of their normal products. This will include ice cream, deodorant, and shampoo in returnable, refillable metal containers. Although the program is currently just a pilot, it’s a step in the direction of extended producer responsibility!
There are a few big downsides to this approach, however.
Metal and glass containers (most plastic is not acceptable for commercial reuse because it is porous and can’t be completely cleaned) take a lot more resources to make than plastic, so using them is only more sustainable if they are actually reused and reused a large number of times. (The containers require a security deposit to receive which hopefully will mitigate this potential problem.)
The pilot program relies on door-to-door delivery, which introduces a last mile problem. The “last mile” refers to the last part of a delivery network. It is often the most complex and expensive (and thus energy- and resource- consuming) part of the network. Instead of going to the grocery store (which, by the way, is another “last mile”), each household gets individualized delivery, so someone still has to drive around. And since the program only includes a small number of products, the delivery route will be in addition to households’ normal grocery trips.
For my friends in New York, maybe you’ll get to try this out soon!