Product packaging makes up about 30 percent of the solid waste tossed out in the U.S. each year. Certain types of packaging may be necessary or beneficial for businesses and consumers. But there’s also a ton of waste in this area, making the goal of a package free shop worthwhile.
Getting to a Package Free Shop
If you want to start a waste free store or move your retail business toward a zero waste lifestyle, evaluating your packaging is a good place to start. Here are some of the things you can do to work toward the goal of having a package free shop.
1. Read Up on Zero Waste Qualifications
Your business doesn’t necessarily have to be zero waste in order to go package free. But there are a ton of benefits of getting certified as a zero waste company.
Heather Paulsen, a B corp and zero waste consultant for businesses, said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “This type of qualification can really set your business apart from a marketing standpoint. Since there are so many standards you need to meet, people know it’s not just greenwashing.”
In order to qualify as a zero waste business, you need to have at least 90 percent of the waste from your company diverted from landfills, and meet a series of other qualifications as well. As you get started on your journey, it helps to read up on all the potential steps you can take.
2. Track What You Use
Paulsen says, “You have to start by understanding what you use on a day-to-day basis. Track what goes in, what comes out, what kind of packaging you’re using or throwing away, and break it all down by material so you have a good foundation for shaping your plan.”
3. Talk With Suppliers
Many of the products you buy from vendors or suppliers may already come with some sort of packaging that you either throw away or pass along to consumers. However, some of those suppliers, particularly those that pride themselves on offering environmentally friendly items, may be willing to work with you to cut down on that waste.
Paulsen shared an example of a store she worked with that sold t-shirts. When those t-shirts arrived, they were all individually wrapped in plastic. The store called the supplier and inquired about purchasing unwrapped shirts instead. The vendor was happy to save money on materials and wrapping each item, and the store got to save time and money as well.
4. Eliminate Unnecessary Wrappings
It’s also important to evaluate your own processes in the same way you would evaluate your vendors. If you’re wrapping individual t-shirts or items that don’t actually need protective wrapping in order to be sold, simply cutting that out of your business can save you time and money, and cut down on your carbon footprint as well.
5. Sort All Waste
For whatever materials that do come into your shop that need to be disposed of in some way, it’s always best to recycle or reuse when possible. And recyclable products should be broken down into categories for easy processing. For instance, you should have different containers for plastic, cardboard, and glass. You can also clean and save certain items for future use, like boxes or jars.
6. Consider Alternative Packaging
If your products must include some kind of packaging, you might consider making it out of biodegradable or eco-friendly materials. For example, some vendors create paper pouches that contain seeds. So your customers can actually plant those items in the ground and turn them into flowers or plants, rather than simply throwing them away.
7. Reuse Everything
There are a ton of items that go into packaging or delivering items to shops. Some of those items end up getting thrown away unnecessarily. If you want your shop to produce less packaging waste, then you should try to reuse everything possible that is delivered to you. For instance, wood palettes or plastic carts used to hold materials can be given back to your vendors and reused over and over again.
8. Get Help from a Professional
Of course, the packaging needs of each shop are very different. But there are consultants, like Paulsen, who can help your business create a plan to go zero waste and/or move towards a package free shop. They’ll go over some of your specific challenges and help you determine what solutions best suit your products and processes.