Oct 14, 2021 - Business

More Twin Cities businesses embrace low-waste practices

Recycling symbol made of plastic utensils
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

We're well aware of the need for a reusable tote after Minneapolis' single-use bag fee took effect this month. But that's not the only low-waste option shoppers have in the Twin Cities.

What's happening: More retailers and restaurants are embracing a number of trash-free practices, from offering reusable takeout containers to selling products in bulk.

Why it matters: We produce a lot of garbage. The Twin Cities metro alone generates around 3.3 million tons of waste each year.

  • And we're dumping more and more. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency expanded four metro landfills this summer in response to a 30% increase in garbage in the last year.

The big picture: Studies suggest that plastic waste significantly increased worldwide during the pandemic, in part because of greater demand for single-use plastics.

State of play: Dedicated bulk markets, like Minneapolis' Tare, appear to be paving the way for low-waste alternatives in the metro.

  • Tare Market — named after the word for the weight of an empty container — focuses on bulk food, such as spices, grains and even candies. Customers bring their own containers, or borrow one from the store by paying a returnable deposit.

Home goods store Zero(ish) Co., which operates under a similar concept, opened this August. Customers bring their own containers and purchase refills of cleaning, beauty and household products by the ounce.

  • They also sell other low-waste goods, like reusable coffee filters, shampoo bars and dissolving laundry detergent strips.

Meanwhile, some Twin Cities restaurants have begun offering Foreverware, a reusable takeout container customers can "check out" for a $5 deposit. They get the deposit back once the container is returned.

  • Each steel container has an asset tag to track when, where and how often they're used.

What they're saying: Since November, Foreverware has saved over 10,000 takeout containers from landfills, co-founder Natasha Gaffer said.

  • "It's been a great way for us to introduce more people to low-waste options outside of just our menu," a staff member from Foreverware partner Wise Acre Cafe told Axios.

Zoom out: As consumers become more aware of climate change, adapting sustainable practices can help a business' bottom line, said Natalie Huang, assistant professor of supply chain and operations at the University of Minnesota.

  • "More people are willing to pay a premium or stay loyal to firms that show their environmental efforts," she said.
  • And, reducing waste during production can help businesses operate more efficiently. It can be cheaper over time too.

The bottom line: It's unlikely you’ll be able to fit five years of your trash in a single mason jar. But sustainable options are available and attainable, no matter how small.

  • "You don't have to be the perfect zero-waste consumer," Zero(ish) founder Kate Marnach said. "Any step toward reducing your trash matters."
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