How the Zero-Waste Movement Is Changing the Way Companies Do Business

From retailers to restaurants, trash talk is all the rage

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Environmental sustainability is a factor for 53% of Americans when making a product purchase decision. Veronica Cerri for Adweek
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The zero-waste movement is far from new. For the past decade, environmentally conscious proponents have been advocating for a lifestyle in which the aim is literally to produce little to no waste. But there are clear signs the movement is gaining serious traction among consumers at large.

Environmental sustainability is a factor for 53% of Americans when making a product purchase decision, while 61% of adults are willing to pay more for food products packaged in sustainable materials. In fact, 35% are willing to pay up to 10% more, according to Asia Pulp & Paper Sinar Mas’ 2019 Paper & Packaging Consumer Trends Report.

Companies large and small are taking notice—and making changes. 

Restaurants like Just Salad are selling alternatives to disposable food containers, like reusable bowls. Refillable products are growing in popularity; CPG giant Unilever last year began piloting the first refilling stations for its hair-care brands at three malls in the Philippines. At the All Things Hair Refillery, shoppers can refill their old shampoo bottles with Cream Silk, Sunsilk, Dove and TRESemme.

And product packaging is getting a second look. Since 2005, Lush has sold more than 41 million shampoo bars, it says, saving 124 million plastic bottles from ever being produced. In a joint effort with the StopWaste Partnership, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. has replaced cardboard with reusable totes and says it will realize $1.95 million in packaging reduction savings over a five-year period.

Plastic, of course, remains a focus. In 2008, Whole Foods banned the use of plastic bags, and last year, eliminated plastic straws as well as polystyrene and Styrofoam meat trays.

Even small companies are finding ways to make a big difference. For bread that Acme Bread Co. packages in house, the San Francisco operation uses bags that include 40% post-consumer waste paper, resulting in an annual savings of more than 70,000 gallons of water and 40,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity related to paper production, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, citing a case study.

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This story first appeared in the March 2, 2020, issue of Brandweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@RichCollings Richard Collings is a retail reporter at Adweek.