NEW REPORT: Innovative companies show how to eliminate single-use plastic packaging

Media Contacts
Faye Park

President, PIRG Education Fund; Executive Vice President, The Public Interest Network

Kabir Gupta

Former Consumer Watchdog, Associate, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

PORTLAND, Ore. – For decades, consumers have found it difficult to avoid plastic packaging, despite the rising toll of plastic pollution on our health, wildlife and environment. Now, a new wave of businesses is successfully eliminating single-use plastic packaging via refill stores, returnable packaging and product innovations.

Leading up to Earth Day, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group are releasing a new report, Refill, Return, Reimagine: Innovative Solutions to Reduce Wasteful Packaging, that explains no-waste and low-waste business models, shares case studies and demonstrates ways to reimagine our relationship with plastic. 

“People know that single-use plastics have a devastating impact on our health and environment but viable alternatives can be hard to find,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund President Faye Park. “A small but growing number of companies are creating and implementing business models that prove that a future with less single-use plastic is within reach.”

Every day, the world produces an astronomical 3.5 million tons of solid waste, roughly 12% of which is plastic. An estimated 36% of that plastic is used in packaging, including products widely used in the restaurant and take-out industry designed to be used once and then thrown out. 

Three especially promising options for reducing the use of plastics in retail and food service are: 

  • Refill stores: At these “refilleries,” customers use refillable containers to take as much or as little of a product as they need and pay by quantity. 
  • Returnable packaging: Containers designed to be sent back to the retailer or manufacturer once they have been used to be cleaned, refilled and used again.
  • Liquid product redesign: Everyday items such as dish soap, shampoo, laundry detergent and toothpaste consist predominantly of water. Remove the water and these products no longer need to be in bottles. Though still relatively rare in mainstream stores, solid versions of traditionally liquid products are increasingly easy to find.

“Innovative entrepreneurs are showing us that a future without single-use plastic packaging is possible,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Beyond Plastic campaign director. “Consumers can support plastic-free businesses by spending their money there. Policymakers also have a role to play by enacting measures to help green businesses grow.”

Specifically, the report recommends that to help remove the obstacles facing these businesses, policymakers should:

  • Enact bans on single-use plastics
  • Create producer responsibility programs for packaging
  • Provide financial support in the form of grants, rebates and tax incentives to businesses seeking to develop and implement low- and zero-waste forms of retail and food service
  • Develop clear, comprehensible health regulations regarding bulk food retail, refill stores and restaurants adopting returnable or reusable container systems

“One of my customers said recently that they shop at my zero waste store because they want to make sure their kids have a planet to live on, and I think a lot of people share that sentiment,” said Mala Persaud, owner of Trace, a zero waste store in Vienna, Virginia. “People are hungry for real solutions, but greenwashing gets in the way. That’s why policymakers should make it easier for businesses like mine to flourish, so we can show people that real solutions are possible.”

Examples from the report that show the possibility of a plastic-free future include:

  • Rolling Refills (New Orleans) Refillable kitchen, bathroom, laundry and other products. Home delivery service for package-free dry food, toiletries and cleaning products.
  • BYO Long Beach (Long Beach, Calif.) Cleaning and personal care products, teas, herbs, spices and other household basics. 
  • DeliverZero (New York City) Returnable take-out restaurant containers.
  • Unpaste (throughout the United States) Solid toothpaste in compostable packaging rather than plastic tubes.

“People across the U.S. are clamoring for ways to move beyond plastic. It’s heartening to see businesses working to be part of the solution,” concluded Meiffren-Swango.