The increasing amount of waste production is not exactly a new environmental concern, but it is still an issue that is far from being resolved. According to a disputable yet shocking report released recently by the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish in terms of weight.
Zero Waste Production: Better Habits to Decrease Waste
There is a movement that goes beyond simply replacing plastic for other biodegradable materials. It preaches zero waste production: The idea is to reduce the amount of trash and recycling through composting, to pick reusable products instead of disposable ones, or encourage people to buy fewer packaged goods. Those who advocate for zero waste production acknowledge it’s an unrealistic goal today; however, incorporating these good habits will significantly reduce the amount of waste produced.
Precycling: Reducing Waste and Costs
Similarly, there is a packaging-free movement happening in retail that seeks to cut out waste in every way. “Precycling” is en vogue and is focused on eliminating trash before it is even created. The bulk concept has been gaining traction recently, evolving from specific initiatives coming from small local retail stores to its adoption by major grocers, not only in Canada but also worldwide. The advantages of going package-free are more than just reducing waste. Counterintuitively, sustainable products can be less expensive. As the packaging is removed from the shopping experience and items are purchased in larger quantities, products can be more competitively priced, according to the Germany-based Original Unverpackt, the first supermarket in the world dedicated to zero-waste lifestyle and one of the precursors of this movement.
Minimizing environmental impact goes beyond just reducing or eliminating packaging. Supporting local producers is also a way to protect the environment, as fewer food miles reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Also, Bulk offers allow consumers to buy as much or as little needed, which helps to cut down waste. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in the United States $15 billion worth of produce is disposed by grocers annually.
Retail Implications of Reducing Packaging
Reducing or eliminating packaging is surely beneficial for the environment, but it also has other implications. The risks to the retailers can increase, including the liability for food contamination. There are branding consequences as well. The consumer’s decision to purchase a product is driven by emotion and is made in the blink of an eye, based on what they see, hear, smell, and touch, as well as on the ideas they already had about the brand. At SLD, we call this the Blink Factor. In a packaging-free environment, consumers will have a sensorial connection to the product, since it will be easier to physically interact with it, but the connection with brands will be greatly missed, as goods become more commoditized. However, there is a strong opportunity for retailers to strengthen their relationship with customers and increase loyalty. Consumers may feel more connected to the retailers where they shop, believing that they are contributing to a greater good and that they are part of an environmentally conscious community, which creates a strong sense of belonging.
The fact is reducing or even eliminating packaging is a trend that is here to stay, so this is a great opportunity for retailers to associate their brands with sustainability, to help reduce plastic waste footprint, and engage with a growing community, committed to environmental issues.