How can zero-waste shopping options be effectively implemented in stores?
Around the world, waste could be considered just as much of an epidemic as any other public health or environmental crisis. It’s estimated that approximately one million plastic bottles are disposed of each minute, coupled with five trillion plastic bags which are discarded each year.
Since 2000, our global material footprint has increased by more than 70%, with the immensely tangible impacts of growing landfills found in many low-income countries with limited infrastructure for waste management. Landfills are among one of the primary emitters of greenhouse gases, generating approximately 12% of global methane emissions and 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In communities located near landfills, the atmospheric pollution this creates has a highly negative impact on community health and economic activity.
Yet landfill waste is more consistently a byproduct of a global purchasing infrastructure that prioritizes convenience and disposability over sustainable reuse practices. Plastic bottles and bags are mainly used because for most, they remain the cheapest and most convenient options sold by producers and distributors.
To reduce landfill waste, we must first construct stronger frameworks that can be used by stores, distributors, and producers that encourage minimal waste through product reuse and reduced product packaging.
THE DESIGN CONTEXT
Just four years ago, the zero-waste packaging market was estimated to be worth USD 1.8 million, with a ten-percent growth forecast in the coming ten years. Zero-waste packaging and other shopping options have recently seen a surge in growth across many parts of North America and Europe for basic groceries and toiletries; these include for produce, nuts, candies, water bottles, soaps, and sponges.
Yet in many cases, the cost to invest in a durable or reusable product can be prohibitively expensive for a low-income consumer, even though studies show long-term net savings. For storeowners as well, the benefits and savings inherent to zero-waste shopping infrastructure — which include less expenditures on packaging options such as plastic bags — are still not clear enough to justify any initial capital costs.
In this transition, designers have a role to play both in designing physical containers and products for zero-waste shopping as well as in presenting the cost-benefit analyses which will communicate to storeowners and consumers the net gains inherent to a zero-waste shopping system. Executing the service design process to project how users can interact and utilize a zero-waste shopping system can also reduce risk of challenging or complicated store experiences which could pose a loss to storeowners.
To expand how zero-waste shopping is implemented in modern grocery and department stores, we plan to partner with both corporations and local business owners to distribute a collection of everyday zero-waste products along with the proper containers and receptacles stores need to distribute them. Product designs will be contextualized and implemented into service designs co- created with business partners which regard the product lifecycle, beginning with how a product is delivered to the store from the producer, to how users can pick up and purchase items, to ultimately how waste collectors can retrieve and dispose of any byproducts back to producers or to recyclers. A zero-waste service design would aim for improved material efficiency and taking advantage of reuse options at every stage possible. An example could be created as follows:
|SERVICE STAGE||TRADITIONAL DESIGN||ZERO-WASTE DESIGN|
|Product delivery from manufacturer to distribution outlet||Individual objects are contained in separate plastic bags for moisture and soil protection. Shipments are contained in larger cardboard boxes or plastic crates. Store employees unpack individual items for shelf placement and discard plastic bags to landfill-designated containers. Cardboard boxes are recycled. Plastic crates are saved in store.||Multiple items are packaged in larger protective sleeves made of compostable or biodegradable material with moisture and soil-repellent properties. The greater price per unit for alternative material packaging is balanced by the reduced number of units order. Shipments are contained in larger cardboard boxes, plastic crates, or wood containers. Store employees unpack item sleeves for shelf placement. Sleeves and plastic crates are sent back to manufacturer for reuse.|
|Product purchase in-store by users||Most food items – including bulk produce, nuts, and fruits – are pre-packaged in plastic bags or glass bottles. Objects are purchased and packaged in plastic or paper bags for take-away by users. Users have the option not to utilize packaging for smaller purchases.||Most food items are not packaged, but are made available by bulk food dispensers. Cloth bulk bags are available for purchase in-store. Users purchase bulk bags once and bring them back for reuse. No take-away packaging is offered. Larger reusable bags for carrying away items are available for one-time purchase and reuse. Purchases are generally cheaper for users due to reduced packaging costs.|
|Byproduct disposal||Users discard of any packaging waste at-home. Some users sort recyclable materials, depending on local recycling requirements. Waste collectors retrieve landfill waste and recyclable waste separately, sending waste streams to the municipal landfill or recycling facility, respectively.||Minimal packaging waste reduces user disposal needs. Waste collectors maintain strategic partnerships with production facilities to create a closed-loop material reuse system for any common byproducts. All else is sent to the municipal landfill or recycling facility.|
Product-service system proposals will be corroborated by financial analyses which communicate the net savings available to all stakeholders including producers, distributors, consumers, and waste managers over short- and long-term periods.