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Why More Supermarkets Are Committing to Zero-Waste

Sarah Peyok headshotWords by Sarah Peyok
Consumer Trends
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Baby Boomers were the last generation to experience a milkman as a part of everyday life. But are the principles of circularity that date back to the 1950’s and 1960’s (and even before) coming back? Are supermarkets now optimal candidates for incorporating how we used to shop decades ago?

Nada grocery store in Vancouver, B.C. is proving that, yes, they are. Customers who shop at Nada are committed to zero-waste practices, and this “trend” has significant impacts. As reported in several publications including the Wall Street Journal, Nada, in a single month prevented this much waste from entering a landfill:

  • Food Waste: 259 pounds

  • Plastic Containers: 21,428

  • Paper Cups: 1,228

At first those numbers may not seem overwhelming. But with an estimated 38,000 supermarkets in the United States alone, imagine how much waste could be prevented from going into local landfills.

This one store is a prime example of an uptick in small, local, one-stop, packaging-free stores sprouting up and taking root in many urban areas. These trendsetters, early adapters, globally-minded grocery store entrepreneurs are meeting their customers’ wants and needs while minimizing harm to the planet.

Another hip, package-free store that’s been gaining attention is Precycle in Brooklyn, New York. Founder Katerina Bogatireva says Precycle wasn’t a lightbulb moment, but more like a phototropism - that is, a reaction against our throwaway culture or gravitation to a new idea of how we could store, present and buy groceries. Precycle started to take shape in 2015 when Bogatireva began to clearly see the mounting results as a result of consumerism. Finding ways to reduce waste as much as possible became her central focus.

From Brooklyn to Sicily to Malaysia to South Africa, more zero waste grocery stores are popping up. Websites like Litterless are also emerging online and helping consumers find packaging-free grocery stores.

More consumers are conscious about sustainability

In a recent Nielsen report, 81 percent of global respondents reported feeling strongly that companies should help improve the environment. From pledging to eliminate single-use plastics to using artificial intelligence to develop more sustainable production processes, companies small and large are responding to pressures from consumers and governments to create more responsible solutions.

On average Americans throw away 307 plastic bags per year. But the amount of waste created and percentage of waste being recycled is slowly starting to support more sustainable ideas. In an interesting statistic that shows the share of Americans by age who used reusable grocery bags made from cloth or other materials in order to be more eco-friendly in 2018, it’s not millennials leading the charge, but those with the greatest spending power—people over the age of 50. With several generations now indicating their preferences for more sustainable ideas on how we shop, grocery stores striving to eliminate plastic are on the cutting-edge of this changing consumer trend.

The benefits of eliminating plastic packaging

It’s not just small grocery stores phasing out single-use plastic either. Large grocery retailers are making commitments to more sustainable, plastic-free options as well.

Kroger plans to eliminate plastic bags in its stores by 2025. Big Y recently announced its plans to fully transition to reusable bags by 2020. Whole Foods ended its use of disposable plastic grocery bags in 2008.

For a grocery retailer heavyweight like Kroger, eliminating plastic bags means 6 billion will no longer be distributed. Why is this advantageous? First, these actions increase measures to protect the environment; in addition, taking such steps also satisfy shifting consumer habits.

The next frontier? Taking on the single-use plastic containers that store countless food products, from plant-based protein entrees to nut butters to organic cookies.

Backlash against plastic waste is mounting. More cities and states are banning or imposing fees on plastic bags. And retailers are responding in kind. If the rapid pace at which technology has advanced is any indication of how sustainably-focused consumer habits will evolve in the next decade, then the grocers who are responding are wise to do so. Perhaps in the near future “No Single-Use Plastics” signs will become as standard as the familiar “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service.”

Image credits: Nada/Facebook

Sarah Peyok headshotSarah Peyok

Based in the Midwest just north of Detroit, Sarah is passionate about sustainability, storytelling and bringing to light sustainability principles that can be threaded into business strategies and communications. Formerly an editor for CSRwire and freelance writer for many organizations forwarding the principles of corporate social responsibility and circularity, she is excited to be a contributor to TriplePundit. Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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