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.
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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.
Educate and Engage Customers on Package-Free Shopping
Transitioning to a package-free shop involves not only changes within your business but also educating and engaging your customers. As this concept might be new to some consumers, it’s essential to create awareness, provide guidance, and build a community that supports the package-free initiative. Here are some strategies to educate and engage your customers on package-free shopping:
- Informative Signage and Materials: Place informative signage throughout your store to explain the concept of package-free shopping and its environmental benefits. Display materials highlighting the reduction of plastic waste, carbon footprint, and the positive impact on the environment. Use eye-catching visuals and statistics to capture customers’ attention and foster interest in the package-free movement.
- Create Packaging-Free Sections: Designate specific sections within your shop that exclusively feature package-free products. Organize these sections strategically to showcase a variety of package-free options, such as bulk bins for food items, refill stations for household products, and eco-friendly alternatives to common packaged products. Make these sections visually appealing to draw customers’ attention and encourage exploration.
- Offer Package-Free Workshops and Events: Host workshops or events focused on package-free living, sustainability, and waste reduction. Invite experts in the field to share insights and practical tips on adopting a package-free lifestyle. Organize DIY workshops for creating eco-friendly products or upcycling used materials. These events not only educate customers but also create a sense of community among like-minded individuals.
- Introduce Package-Free Loyalty Programs: Implement loyalty programs that reward customers for choosing package-free options. Offer incentives such as discounts, freebies, or exclusive access to events for customers who actively participate in reducing packaging waste. A loyalty program can motivate customers to make sustainable choices and strengthen their connection to your brand.
- Provide Reusable Packaging Solutions: Offer reusable and eco-friendly packaging solutions that align with the package-free concept. Provide customers with reusable bags, jars, or containers they can use for their purchases. Encourage them to bring their own reusable containers for bulk purchases or refills. Consider partnering with local artisans to create branded, sustainable packaging options that customers will be proud to reuse.
- Share Success Stories and Impact: Share success stories of customers who have embraced package-free shopping and its positive impact on the environment. Use social media, newsletters, or in-store displays to highlight these stories. Engaging testimonials and personal experiences can inspire others to follow suit and adopt sustainable practices in their daily lives.
- Collaborate with Local Environmental Initiatives: Partner with local environmental organizations or community groups that promote waste reduction and sustainability. Collaborate on joint campaigns or events to amplify your message and increase outreach. By aligning with local initiatives, your shop becomes an active participant in the broader sustainability movement.
- Seek Feedback and Encourage Customer Participation: Seek feedback from customers regarding their package-free shopping experiences and ideas for improvement. Encourage them to share their own waste reduction tips or package-free lifestyle practices. Engage customers through surveys, social media polls, or suggestion boxes. Valuing customer feedback fosters a sense of ownership and partnership in your package-free journey.
By actively engaging customers in the package-free movement, your shop can create a positive impact beyond its premises. Empowering customers with knowledge, tools, and opportunities to embrace sustainable practices will strengthen your brand’s reputation as a responsible and environmentally conscious business. As consumers increasingly seek businesses aligned with their values, a package-free shop can stand out as a leader in the quest for a greener and more sustainable future.
Embracing the concept of a package-free shop is not only a responsible environmental choice but also a strategic move that can set your business apart and foster customer loyalty. With product packaging contributing significantly to solid waste, transitioning to a package-free shop becomes a worthwhile goal. By taking steps such as reading up on zero waste qualifications, tracking material usage, and engaging suppliers, you can effectively work towards this objective.
Evaluating your own processes and eliminating unnecessary wrappings further reduces your carbon footprint and enhances operational efficiency. Sorting waste for recycling and considering alternative packaging materials showcase your commitment to sustainability. Reusing items whenever possible and seeking help from professionals like zero waste consultants ensure that your efforts are well-guided and successful.
However, achieving a package-free shop requires more than internal changes. Educating and engaging customers play a crucial role in the journey towards sustainability. Informative signage, package-free sections, workshops, and loyalty programs build awareness and encourage sustainable choices. Providing reusable packaging solutions creates a sense of responsibility and empowers customers to contribute to waste reduction.
Sharing success stories and collaborating with local environmental initiatives amplify your impact and inspire others to join the package-free movement. Customer feedback becomes invaluable in shaping your approach and fostering a sense of shared responsibility. Together, you and your customers can drive meaningful change towards a greener future.
As the world becomes increasingly conscious of environmental issues, adopting package-free practices will not only benefit your business but also contribute to the larger goal of reducing waste and preserving our planet for future generations. By leading the way and actively engaging your customers, your package-free shop can become a symbol of sustainability, setting an example for others and making a lasting positive impact on our planet.
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