Zero Waste

Putting Away Plastic: The Rise of Zero Waste Grocery Stores

Around the globe, there is a drive to reduce plastic waste. The movement has picked up in many cities with hotels, restaurants and shops cutting down on the use of single-use items like plastic straws and bags. 

Most of this waste are used in packaging and many, frankly are unnecessary. From packing avocados and oranges in individual plastic wraps in places like Hong Kong, to boxes or cellophane wraps in the states. Some even package apples in hard plastic clamshells, bananas in foam trays, and in places like Japan, strawberries are packaged in a foam net before been put in a plastic straw and sold in a plastic wrap. 

different-kinds-of-cookies-in-shop-PTULNRF.jpg

In years past, China had been recycling more than half of the world’s waste but since they stopped accepting wastes, the millions of tons of such waste have been left unattended many times. In many countries, plastic fibers contaminate tap water.

Key Drivers 

Last year saw the anti-plastic drinking straw campaign create the “year of the straw”. Big companies like Starbucks and McDonalds pledged to reduce or phase out plastic straw use. Loop, a new zero waste shopping platform has partnered with global companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble to brand-name goods in reusable containers. This means that instead of using plastic containers to package goods and having to trash them, Loop collects the reusable packaging and prepares it for fresh use.

It also would not be possible without the help of the government. The European parliament has approved a ban on single-use plastics (cutlery, straws and sticks) in the EU. British Prime Minister Theresa May has endorsed a plan to remove avoidable plastic waste in British supermarkets, with taxes on single-use containers. In the US, the state of California bans single-use plastic bags at large retail stores and Hong Kong is planning to implement a building management enforcement for plastic waste. 

Trailblazers

With such key drivers in the push for zero waste, it is easier to see why there is a rise in zero waste grocery stores. In the states, Precycle in Brooklyn is one of those stores that sell organic local produce and bulk food without packaging. The founder, Katerina Bogatireva said she was inspired by the Berlin based Original Unverpackt

Over in Canada, Nada are doing great and have reportedly diverted more than 30,500 containers from landfills. They also launched a zero-waste café where visitors are encouraged to bring their own cups from home. Out in Denver, Zero Market are also one of the leading lights in the drive for zero plastic waste in the environment. 

In Hong Kong, Live Zero and Edgar are two popular zero waste stores. Live Zero, which is more of a wholesale store keeps its items in clear self-service bins or dispensers which are then poured into containers that you come with from home, no plastic packaging. Edgar is more of a grocery shop and they even offer reusable containers for packaging rather than using plastic. 

Gradually, the change is getting to everyone. There are now plastic free supermarket aisle’s in Amsterdam (the first of its kind in the EU) while Waitrose now sells Pasta in boxes made from food waste

With legislature and global firms steering the wheel, zero-waste grocery stores will continue to rise as they offer a solution to sustainability in the environment.

Meet Trestle, the Company That Simplifies Ethical Shopping

For the conscientious shopper, buying almost anything these days has become a nightmare situation. Ethical concerns about chocolate and coffee production abound, and every few years reports of slave-like factory conditions in developing nations shock and devastate Western shoppers. Other considerations factor into the anxiety of the ethical shopper, too. A company that treats its employees like gold might still be environmentally sustainable. Worse, some brands participate in greenwashing, a marketing trick meant to make consumers believe that they’re greener than they actually are. Meanwhile, the time necessary to research informed choices is more than the average working person can handle.

Enter Trestle, a shopping research service whose goal is to empower ethical consumers. This innovative company intends to take the guesswork out of shopping by bringing their customers the information they need to buy consciously. In the process, it’ll show people how to support the prosperity of products and sellers that make the world a better place.

Jennifer Johnson (L), Carl Hickerson (R) on the Pacific Northwest Trail

Trestle’s history

Trestle is the brainchild of Jennifer Johnson and Carl Hickerson, who graciously sat down with us for an interview. Like many great ideas, the one that eventually became Trestle was born on a long hike. Experienced in project and business management, Jennifer and Carl were up-and-coming young professionals with a shared hope of changing the world. As they traveled the Pacific Northwest Trail together, they discussed the potential of for-profit business to make a difference in the world, a potential that, they agreed, amounted to a responsibility. By mitigating their impact on the planet or by refusing to exploit people in economically vulnerable parts of the world, companies could stand in for hundreds or even thousands of consumers whose individual efforts wouldn’t be enough to make a significant change in the world. They could represent an aggregate desire for justice on the part of everyone who chose to support them by purchasing their products.

Ultimately, the two came to the conclusion that every purchase is a statement that matters. Each tells its company, ethical and otherwise, that its customers support the company’s actions. Looking at their own shopping practices in this light, Jennifer and Carl were embarrassed. Like most Americans, they often chose their purchases by convenience rather than by their own ethical standards. As bad as this made them feel, they weren’t entirely at fault. Conscious shopping, they learned, was precipitously difficult for an individual. Doing the research, seeking out brands, and finding locations to purchase products consciously required an investment of time that most people simply don’t have. Mindful consumerism needed to combine ethical standards with the convenience of conventional shopping. This became the founding principle of Trestle.

What Trestle does

Trestle is a new kind of shopping service: one that doesn’t shop for you, but which provides research which could be time limiting for the average person. It also operates on an affordable subscription model not much more expensive than a reasonably-priced gym membership. Trestle customers can sign up for $10/month memberships, for which they get unlimited reports, or “Trestle Tracks,” on any product or company they’d like to know more about. These reports contain expert-level research on any consumer item that the customer wants to know about. In an economic landscape crowded with products, this really takes the guesswork out of purchasing, especially when it comes to items of significance like furniture. Trestle Tracks cover the top three or four company or product performers for each report, presenting the customer with both options and information. It’s not hard to imagine this as the shopping trend of the future. Millennials in particular are famous for wanting to shop according to their values. Jennifer points out that “81% of millennials believe that companies should take active approaches to improving the environment and 3/4 consumers would actually pay more for sustainable and ethically-made goods.” The success of organic food and buy-local movements attests to the growing demand for products with socially and environmentally positive impacts.

Trestle’s Brand Explorer  lets you search through products and brands based off of the values like “Fair Trade,” or “B-Corp”

Trestle’s Brand Explorer lets you search through products and brands based off of the values like “Fair Trade,” or “B-Corp”

Trestle’s research practice considers each company or product in light of the shopper’s particular ethical concerns. For example, a shopper who cares about the environment and wants to buy eco-friendly toothbrushes will get a different report from one who cares about fair labor practices and wants to buy a dress. The result is information that’s tailored to the individual’s values. Transparency, sustainability, fair labor, and animal cruelty are all factors by which Trestle’s customers can ask to rate and rank companies. The company’s business highlights page, which includes Patagonia, Mammut, and MUTU Coffee, is an example of the quality and character of companies that fit many shopper’s expectations for ethically acceptable practices.

As of the writing of this profile, Trestle is less than three years old. It only began actively taking subscriptions in January of 2019. Even though it’s still young, Jennifer and Carl have big plans for the future. The company will soon expand its offerings so that buyers can take Trestle with them to the store, where it could make an even more significant difference to its clientele. After all, when faced with fifty similar-looking cereals at the supermarket, having Trestle on your side could mean the difference between consciousness and convenience.

Trestle lets you explore  based on Sustainability, Fair Labor, Social Impact, Cruelty Free, Transparency, and more

Trestle lets you explore based on Sustainability, Fair Labor, Social Impact, Cruelty Free, Transparency, and more

What Makes A Company Ethical?

Although it uses research to rank and rate companies, Trestle doesn’t deliver verdicts on whether companies are objectively “good.” There’s no Trestle stamp of approval or Trestle-approved business directory - at least, not yet. Instead, Trestle looks at the company’s value claims. If a customer wants to buy sustainably, for example, Trestle might consider a company’s marketing or message that their products are 100% biodegradable. They’d look into the validity of that claim, as well as others that the company makes about its sustainability practices, and rate the company based on how well it measures up to its own standards. Then, if the company is a good match for the customer’s requirements, Trestle will recommend it. Jennifer describes this as the Match.com of e-commerce. The service Trestle provides is more about compatibility with the consumer’s interests than an absolute standard of quality. Ultimately, it’s up to the customer to decide what they care about.

Customer response has been very enthusiastic. Shoppers are tired of feeling like dupes when their preferred brand turns out to have a terrible human rights record or a history of dumping toxic waste. In a nation where the average millennial works 45 hours per week, doing personal research on every brand might add hours of planning to every shopping trip. Every new product on the market would be a question mark, and starting a new hobby would be prohibitive. Companies that behave badly profit off of the average person’s inability to keep up with their behavior. Trestle’s model explodes that factor. For their customers, there will be no more uncertainty.

Since opening their digital doors in January of 2019, Trestle’s customer response has been tremendous. The young company has fielded inquiries about beauty products, clothing, art supplies, furniture, and more. Jennifer attributes the company’s momentum to the fact that people want to patronize companies that think like they do. There’s no joy in buying from an organization that will make the world a worse place, but supporting a company that makes both a good product and a positive difference is a double value.

Trestle provides information about  both individual products and entire brands

Trestle provides information about both individual products and entire brands

Shopping Mindfully

Philosophically, shopping consciously means shopping with intention. Jennifer tells In Kind that online shopping has reinforced a preference for convenience in our culture. There’s a level of casualness to shopping that simply didn’t exist before everything was available for the minimum price at the touch of a button. The fact that anyone with a credit card can buy anything, no matter how obscure, over the Internet may have generated a new kind of consumer complacency. This may be good for certain companies’ quarterly reports, but it’s not ideal for humankind.

Mindful shopping isn’t just a way to live according to ethical values. It’s a way to reclaim a consumer process that seems to depend on the customer being at least partially checked out of the buying process. If knowledge is power, then knowing about our purchasing options returns a certain amount of power to us as consumers. It forces us to think as we buy rather than simply looking for the lowest price. Minimalists already appreciate that an easy-come, easy-go culture leads to a certain amount of devaluation, not just of the intangible ethical tenets that matter to us, but of the objects themselves. When it doesn’t matter where a purchase came from, then does the purchase itself mean as much? Apparently, a mindlessly bought item can be cheap in more ways than one.

From Left to Right: Damola Omotosho (CTO), Carl Hickerson (Founder), Jennifer Johnson (Founder)

From Left to Right: Damola Omotosho (CTO), Carl Hickerson (Founder), Jennifer Johnson (Founder)

Jennifer sees Trestle as a way to build an alternative consumer system. In many ways, it counters the assumption of the corporate mainstream that customers don’t have or need meaning in their financial transactions. Instead, Trestle assumes that their clients are intelligent and concerned, interested in the world around them and eager to be informed. It’s a respectful point of view that’s much lacking in an economic landscape where consumers are often treated as forces of nature, statistics, or sources of revenue. Perhaps it’s time that the buyers of America stopped tolerating companies that ignore both the greater good and their customers’ desire to make the world a better place. Maybe it’s time that companies who insist on upholding their ethical standards are found and brought into their deserving spotlight. If that time is here, and a new generation of companies is set to thrive on customer desire to do good, then Trestle will certainly be in the vanguard. Jennifer and Carl may yet prove that business can change the world.

You can learn more about Trestle on their website, or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Salvage Food Products and Chicago's Growing Zero Waste Movement

Food companies waste food. It’s an unfortunate fact of the industry, and in an age when every ton of carbon counts, it’s is a humanitarian triple whammy. Not only is edible food not going into hungry mouths, but the fuel used to harvest it meaninglessly contributes to our carbon footprint and much of that discarded food goes into methane-burping landfills. As consumers wake up and demand change, companies large and small are starting to question the wisdom of large-scale corporate food waste. Salvage Food Products is one of the most creative of these entrepreneurs. Their mission: turn the residue from the hard cider brewing process into delicious vinegar. It’s the latest development in a zero waste movement that is starting to catch fire worldwide.

Who are Salvage?

Nicholas Beaulieu

Nicholas Beaulieu

Nicholas Beaulieu and Jason Garland knew one another long before they began Salvage Food Products together in 2017. Both chefs, they’d been friends for years by the time they sat down with a plan to open a business and tackle food waste. 

Although the idea was fresh in the Chicago area, Nicholas was already an old hand at recycling brewery product. He’d worked as director of sales in North Bay, Ontario, for a brewery that generated a significant amount of waste product. He quickly realized that the money the company was spending on marketing, packaging, and merch was completely wasted if perfectly good brew was going down the drain. There was more than a little waste involved, too. Even the vats where beer and cider are brewed end up with some extra dregs that don’t make it into the bottle.

Where one person might have shrugged the unusable brew off as the cost of doing business, Nicholas saw an opportunity to both reduce waste and profit. He started recovering beer that otherwise would have gone to the dump and turning it into vinegar. That vinegar, in turn, went to local restaurants. Good beer made good vinegar, and the idea was a hit. Soon, other breweries wanted to work with Nicholas, too. It was a valuable experience.

Nicholas eventually married and moved to Chicago, where he reunited with his best friend and fellow food professional, Jason Garland. They were both interested in vinegar, and by coincidence, so was Charlie Davis of Right Bee Cider. Together, they hatched a plan to save unwanted cider from obscurity. The moment for upcycled vinegar had arrived. 

Now Salvage makes excellent vinegar that not only saves the environment, but spreads the word about Right Bee’s products. Responsible businesses like this one represent ideal products for a generation that notoriously buys based on its values. According to recent data, 73% of millennials prefer to spend extra money on sustainable products. More are going zero waste, too. 

Since starting, Salvage has grown tremendously. They’re acquiring more clients and starting to explore new product lines. (Who wouldn’t love a jam or hot sauce made from their favorite cider?) This will take some extra licensing and additional equipment, as well as cooperation with new partners, but the future looks bright. In just two years, they’ve become a unique fixture on the Chicago food scene.

What is zero waste?

Jason Garland

Jason Garland

When you think of “waste,” you might have visions of plastic toy packaging piling up on the floor during the holidays, plastic grocery bags riding the breeze down trash-strewn alleys, and endless junkyards full of rusting metal. But waste isn’t just extra material. It’s material that doesn’t need to be waste in the first place! Styrofoam packing peanuts, which don’t decay, get thrown out after one use, and require energy to manufacture and transport are an obviously pointless source of garbage. (After all, there is such a thing as paper packing material.) But even though food is renewable and biodegradable, wasting it is deceptively dangerous for the Earth. It’s easy to tsk about styrofoam, which is obviously destined to end up polluting the planet for centuries to come, but harder to notice the huge, largely invisible effect that wasted food has on our environment. Even dedicated environmentalists who do notice it are sometimes at a loss as to how to deal with the problem. Consumers can compost and resist discarding food, but so much of the waste involved happens at the production level that consumer behavior changes can only do so much. Think about all those weird-looking but otherwise normal apples that never make it to the supermarket.

That’s why, when an enterprising startup shows up to interrupt the waste cycle at the corporate level, people sit up and take notice. Salvage Food Products are determined to strike a blow against waste at one of its big sources: the brewery. By partnering with Right Bee Cider of Chicago, they’re showing Illinois that zero percent waste can mean a hundred percent better for both business and nature.

Right Bee Apple Cider Vinegar

Right Bee Apple Cider Vinegar

How it works

The idea of “waste cider” may not sound terribly appealing to you at first blush. Don’t think of what Salvage uses as garbage, because it’s not. In fact, it’s usually just extra cider - not enough to bottle and sell, but perfectly fine to drink. 

There are a few ways that brewing companies end up with this unsaleable excess. First of all, they may happen to generate bottles of product with incorrect or faulty labeling. Think three labels on the bottle, or the wrong label on the wrong product. Distribution issues can result in extra cider as well, as can mistakes in the brewing process. Sometimes, brewers will even have to contend with returns or product that hasn’t sold. Alcohol does go off-date, but only in the sense that it starts to change into vinegar. That’s where Salvage comes in.

Salvage puts that alcohol into fermenting tanks and lets it keep progressing on its journey toward full vinegar status. To understand how this happens, it helps to know a little bit about the chemistry involved. Making vinegar is a fermentation process that fundamentally changes an alcoholic substance into an acidic one. You may have personal experience with this phenomenon if you’ve ever kept an open bottle of wine too long. Eventually, instead of sweet and intoxicating, the wine will just taste sour. Popular Science has a pretty good article about how this happens and why it is no tragedy. Vinegar made from great alcohol generally makes a fantastic cooking ingredient. This chef secret has a lot to do with the success of Salvage.

At the cellular level, vinegar-making is a group effort. A type of bacteria called acetobacter consumes the ethanol that makes wine and beer intoxicating and replaces it with acetic acid. Salvage Food Products simply takes excess, unused, and unloved alcohol - which would otherwise be thrown out - and lets those bacteria eat it up. 

Right Bee Cider

Right Bee Cider

The company accomplishes this en masse by using vats quite a bit larger than your forgotten bottle of table wine. A small amount of alcohol in a bottle turns into vinegar fairly easily because it’s well-exposed to the air. Acetobacter needs oxygen and warm temperatures in order to work its magic. (It’ll live quite happily between 59 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why it thrives on your kitchen table, but if you really want it to grow well, you’ll need to keep it between 80 and 85 degrees.) Knowing that, it’s easy to see why a huge amount of alcohol in a deep, mostly airless vat could take months to change into vinegar.

Traditional vinegar brewing is a static process. The Orleans method, a famous French vinegar-making process, is a good example: the wine or beer just sits around until its alcohol has turned to acid. Then, the vinegar brewers empty most of the vat, leaving the bacterial mat as a seed for the next batch. Nicholas and Jason have customized the more modern submerged acidification technique, which pumps air into the fermenting vinegar. By exposing the brew to more oxygen, they can turn a vat of cider into vinegar in less than a week.

Great for nature, great for business

Brewing involves a significant amount of unavoidable waste. When a brewer ends up with a bunch of cider or beer that they can’t get rid of, then they need to spend even more money to have that stuff shipped away and safely disposed of. Pouring it down the drain is against the rules, and recycling alcohol is expensive. Nicholas reports that one Chicago brewer pays out of pocket to get rid of thousands of gallons of alcohol at a time. Add that to the money already spent packaging, labeling, marketing, and shipping the product, and you’ve got a big financial pain in the neck, no matter how well your brewery is performing. 

It’s no wonder that so many beer and cider companies are interested in what Salvage is doing. By making wasted cider into something useful and delicious, this innovative company recovers up to 75% of that lost product...not to mention a great deal of the lost investment! A tank malfunction suddenly turns into a golden opportunity to create something new. Unwanted product doesn’t have to be a liability anymore. 

In a society where waste culture is ingrained, most people - and companies - think next to nothing of tossing away waste. Changing this will involve both cultural shifts and some serious out-of-the-box thinking. Solutions won’t always be as straightforward as compostable cutlery and beeswax food wraps. Salvage is stepping into a niche that the food industry didn’t realize it needed: efficient, smart recovery of food that we can no longer afford to throw out. 

You can learn more about Salvage Food Products on their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Website.