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How Plastic- And Package-Free Stores Are Reshaping Retail

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Sustainable Haus Mercantile, in Summit, N.J., is a small store with a big mission. It is trying to gently persuade every customer who walks through its door, or visits its website, to change their consumption habits, one shampoo bottle, one laundry detergent jug, one roll of paper towels, at a time.

The store, which opened in early 2020, is one of a growing number of plastic-free, package-free, and zero-waste stores springing up to address the billions of tons of waste generated by the most common retail purchases.

It’s a movement that has made inroads into mainstream merchants. Target

in June announced a sustainability strategy, vowing to be the market leader for sustainable brands by 2030. It embraced Plastic-Free July, with store displays featuring brands like Stojo, which makes sustainable alternatives to the disposable coffee cup, and other single-use food and beverage containers.

A search for plastic-free on Amazon

yields over 20,000 results, from reusable food wraps to bio-degradable hair ties. Online retailers like Grove Collaborative heavily promoted Plastic-Free July on social media this month, enlisting influencers and celebrities to go plastic-free for a day or more.

But Sustainable Haus Mercantile, and its owner, Janette Spiezio, take sustainability to the next level. Spiezio makes many of the products sold in her store, including laundry detergent, soaps, various cleaning products, and reusable replacements for napkins and paper towels, eliminating the environmental impact of shipping associated with ordering those products from a wholesaler. Her local customers like knowing they can walk to her store to refill their reusable shampoo, sunscreen, or detergent bottles and keep their money in the local economy.

“I could buy those [reusable food storage] stasher bags on Amazon, but I’d rather give my money to Janette than Jeff Bezos,” said Sustainable Haus Mercantile customer Megan Vartan.

Vartan, 28, said she had been trying to eliminate single-use plastics and other disposables from her life, but it wasn’t until Sustainable Haus opened near her home in Summit that it became easy to make those changes.

“They sell a lifestyle and a way to make a ripple effect change in your life,” Vartan said. “Every time I run out of a plastic product, I just find a better solution there,” she said.

There are a growing number of consumers around the world who think like Vartan. The 2020 PwC Global Consumer Insights Survey found that 45% of consumers said they avoid the use of plastic whenever possible, and 41% want retailers to eliminate plastic bags and packaging for perishable items.

Litterless, a zero-waste resource website, lists hundreds of stores across the country – in each of the 50 states – that are selling package-free bulk groceries and beauty and cleaning supplies that customers can place in reusable containers.

Jurrien Swarts, CEO and co-founder of sustainable beverage and food container brand Stojo, said its products are designed to “help shift consumer behavior, one person at a time.”

Stojo was born in 2012, after Swarts and co-founder Alex Abrams, who were working in finance at the time, and throwing out as many as five disposable takeout coffee cups a day, created a collapsible, leak-proof reusable coffee cup that could fit in a pocket when not in use.

It has since grown into a line of collapsible food containers sold online and at Target, Whole Foods, Anthropologie, and other retailers.

Stojo estimates that for every year they are in use, each individual Stojo cup, bottle or bowl saves one gallon of water, 16 lbs of solid waste, and 23 lbs of greenhouse gas emissions.

Swarts said he envisions a future where reusables will be part of an increasingly circular ecnomoy, where companies “provide end-of-life services to take back products from consumers and ensure the product is up-cycled into something else,” and where food service companies, cosmetics brands, and groceries stores provide consumers with reusable containers “designed to be returned to the seller, washed, reused.”

Sustainable Haus Mercantile’s Janette Spiezio opened her store in early 2020, a few years after she retired from 30 years in a corporate job with a Fortune 500 company.

Previously, she had started making her own laundry detergent – “I wasn’t comfortable that my ‘green’ laundry detergent was actually green,” she said. In 2018, she began selling it, along with her homemade soaps and napkins made from repurposed vintage fabrics and clothing, at farmers markets in New Jersey suburbs.

Her store opened in February 2020, only to have to close to customers a month later due to the pandemic. She pivoted to making cotton masks, and sales of those, along with online salesand curbside pickups, kept her in business until pandemic shutdowns were lifted.

In addition to the products she sells, she is making her store a…

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2021-07-25 16:00:10

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