How The Zero Waste Movement Is Changing The Market Via Innovation And Inspiration
You’ve probably heard it before, but we’ll say it again: your consumer voice is powerful! And as a zero waste consumer, you’re definitely being heard.
While most people think of the zero waste lifestyle as having a mason jar for a trashcan, it’s far less radical than it seems. Making the simple decision to carry a handkerchief isn’t a new idea, and washing your counters with a reusable cloth instead may not feel life changing.
So, maybe you’re not sure that you’re having an actual impact.
Take a deep breath. Give yourself a pat on the back. The signs are good. Since the early days of Zero Waste with legends like Bea Johnson pioneering the movements and then David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and of course, the terrifying movie A Plastic Ocean adding fuel to the burning waste heap, the world is finally embracing many of the concepts championed by the zero waste movement, and we think it’s exciting!
YOUR CONSUMER VOICE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
One of the magical aspects of the zero waste movement is that it shines a sustainable light on how many everyday throwaways end up in landfill. Even if your neighbor isn’t rocking a compost bin quite yet, they likely own a few eco-conscious products around their house. And they can thank you for that.
Okay, not just you. Thanks to the zero waste movement and other passionate champions of sustainability, entrepreneurs are rushing to innovate and put sustainable products on the market. After all, there’s a growing demand for it.
Just last year, Nielsen released an encouraging report on how sustainability sells. They discovered that items with specific sustainability claims grew twice as fast as other items in their category. Their advice to companies?
“No matter what, sustainability is no longer a niche play: your bottom-line and brand growth depend on it.”
This is coming from a reputable global measurement and data analytics company! Businesses are listening.
As a conscious consumer, this makes life easier. As we continue to put pressure on the market through our purchasing power, it gets easier to find zero waste swaps for the things we use day to day… and importantly makes zero waste and sustainable consumption choices more accessible to a wider group of people.
INNOVATION IS ON THE RISE
Each year, more and more sustainable products hit the market. Not all of these are perfect zero waste solutions, but entrepreneurs are beginning to think harder about their products. The market’s idea of sustainability is slowly expanding to include waste free packaging and more transparency.
PATCH, a compostable and vegan alternative to traditional bandaids, is a shining example of where we hope sustainable products are headed. PATCH strips are 100% compostable, and the company is 100% transparent about what goes into them.
Reusables are becoming easier to find as well. A recent innovation is Last Swab, an alternative to single use cotton swabs. Increasing numbers of Zero Waste Beauty Brands are providing their products in refillable glass or tin containers. And their refills? Those often come in 100% compostable packages.
Of course, there are many other examples! We regularly write guides on the best zero waste swaps without much hassle. Our main point is this: thanks to demand, new waste free products and packaging are being invented every year.
BUYING IN BULK IS GETTING TRENDY AND THERE ARE STORES FOR IT
Another exciting sign of the times are package free stores. These are popping up in more populated areas around the globe.
Customers bring their own containers to fill up on everything from fair-trade coffee to laundry soap. There is some stigma around specialty stores like this. Many assume it will be expensive. While this may be true for some products (fancy chocolate, anyone?), buying in bulk is often more affordable than most people expect.
For those who don’t have a package free stores in their town, you will likely find bulk buying sections in natural grocery stores. If you live in the US, this zero waste blog has a handy state by state list of where to shop.
Bulk buys are beginning to trend, and we hope to see more and more options become available. Be sure to let your local grocery stores know what you want in the meantime.
CHANGING MINDSETS AND CLOSING LOOPS
Waste is more complex than what we purchase and throw out. There’s a mindset shift needed around how we view waste. At the forefront of this cause is TerraCycle.
Since 2001, they’ve been on a mission to eliminate the idea of waste. Their programs take hard-to-recycle items and turn them into new products. It’s a massive undertaking with a big impact.
As we’re writing, their homepage tally shows over 202 million people recycling, over 7 billion waste recycled and over $44 million dollars donated to charity. Talk about inspiring!
Now, the founder of TerraCycle has launched a new program. Loop is focused on creating a circular system. They partner with retailers and producers to create refillable packaging that consumers can send back rather than throw away.
But how does it work?
Loop delivers the goods. You enjoy them. They pick up the empty containers and refill them. It’s a lot like having a milkman but better.
What’s really exciting about Loop is that they’re working with major brands. Speaking of which, let’s talk about those big retailers.
BIG BRANDS ARE STARTING TO SNIFF OUT THEIR OWN GARBAGE
We know shopping at major retailers can be challenging for those of us who live a waste free lifestyle. Their bulk sections aren’t always generous (if they exist at all), ethics in their sourcing policies and raw materials can often be lacking, and many of their products come wrapped in plastic. We have some encouraging news, though!
Beside the fact that there are now a burgeoning selection of ethical online stores and zero waste stores. At least from a waste perspective, major retailers are starting to wake up and smell the garbage. They’re realizing that waste is expensive for everyone involved and sustainable products are in high demand.
As one of the world’s largest retailers, their environmental footprint is complex. What Walmart does trickles down to their suppliers, farmers, and consumers. While they have a long way to go, it’s encouraging to see a corporate giant embrace zero waste concepts.
Other major retailers are making zero waste goals too. Target is another example. They’re aiming for zero operational wastes in their fashion brands and closing loops in their supply chain while empowering their customers to lead waste free lives.
Kroger recently launched a zero waste inspired initiative to combat food waste in their stores. They’re partnering with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Feeding America to make progress possible. Notably, they partnered with Loop!
While for us, supporting small, local, conscious businesses (that have carefully considered their supply chains and provide ethical, sustainable products) is absolutely still the way to go, we realize that majority of consumers out there don’t think like this and will continue to support the corporate giants of the world.
So our current view is that driving positive change at this scale will have a huge impact, even if it’s far from perfect. We’d rather the masses do small things better than a small group of conscious consumers do everything perfectly. Anne Marie Bonneau from the Zero Waste Chef said it best: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
YOU AREN’T THROUGH WITH DETECTIVE WORK YET
Having said all that, we now know how much of an impact small groups of people can have. As sustainability becomes mainstream, there is both an opportunity to keep the pressure on to drive even more positive change and a risk of greenwashing.
We still have to be vigilant and take the time to do detective work when it comes to what we buy. We still have to ask the questions. We still have to understand the true cost of the products we purchase.
We still have to demand better… because look at the incredible impact we can have!
KEEP GOING, IT’S WORKING
Maybe zero waste isn’t mainstream, but it has certainly left its mark. Zero wasters are pioneers in a world that needs conscious consumers to survive.
Changing the mindset surrounding waste isn’t easy, but we are making steps forward.
From this movement, entrepreneurs have responded to the need for waste free alternatives and packaging. It has also alerted more people to the enormous waste problem we all face. More businesses are beginning to rethink the life cycle of products and the production process.
So keep spreading awareness, keep making eco-friendly choices, and keep living your best sustainable life. You don’t have to do it perfectly. We know zero waste is an ideal, but every choice you make leaves its mark.