If you’re heading to the supermarket, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll visit the deli section.
Right now, when you pick up some coleslaw or shaved ham, you get single use plastic packaging.
You could bring a container, but you’re not sure whether it’s okay to use it. Or, you’ve forgotten it, just like you forget your reusable tote bags or your keep cup at the exact moment you need it most. Whatever happens, inconvenient and costly waste is built into the system.
The waste problem at the deli section is representative of the wider plastic crisis in Aotearoa.
People want solutions. 69% of Kiwis are concerned about plastic waste, and more kiwis are demanding genuine zero waste solutions with every year that passes.
So much of our day to day waste comes from the food we buy. We’ve contacted Kelly McClean, sustainable packaging product manager for Foodstuffs, who says that 4 million single-use containers are used in the deli section of New World every year.
But, Foodstuffs has an ambitious blueprint to reach a zero waste future. Their packaging principles include; removing unnecessary packaging, incorporating a simplified plastic design into the process, making what to do with packaging simple to understand and designing for reuse. It is a great blueprint on how to build a waste free supermarket.
We need these ambitions because the existing options to reduce our waste just don’t cut it. BYO reusable solutions, although well intended, aren’t fit-for-purpose with everyday life. Everyone has a growing mountain of tote bags, and we never have our reusable cup when we need it. These inconvenient designs are wasteful zero waste solutions.
That’s where we come in. We’re driven to develop zero waste solutions for critical problems like single use containers in the deli section. They need to suit every kind of supermarket trip, be guided by zero waste principles in every step of the design process, and be incredibly convenient.
In our discussions with Kelly, she mentioned that a systems approach to reusables is needed, and convenience is really important for solutions to single use plastic.
So, we’ve made Reposit; a convenient container deposit system to address the waste problem at the deli section, starting in New World.
Here’s how it works. When you visit the deli section to get some coleslaw, instead of getting a single use container to take home, you pay a small $5 deposit for a returnable plastic container. We think that with 67% of Kiwis making eco-conscious choices, regardless of cost, this will be accepted quickly.
When you’re done with it, you bring it back to the supermarket. You can return it in good shape for your money back, or swap it with a sanitised container to use again at no extra cost. If you forget your container, or have to do a spontaneous shop, you can easily get an extra one and return it next time you shop, rather than having it sit in your house forever. We take every used container, professionally sanitise it, and return it to the supermarket to be used again and again.
We’ve designed containers which we’re eager to continue developing with Foodstuffs to meet their needs. Right now, Reposit containers suit the full range of products available at the deli, can be segmented to hold multiple items and are easily cleaned. They're designed for seamless transport through stacking, and meet all food hygiene standards.
Most importantly, Reposit is designed from the ground up to be zero waste. It is made from durable HDPE and PP plastic to withstand the wear and tear of everyday life. If it breaks, we can recycle it to stop any waste reaching the landfill by offering it to companies working with lower product packaging hygiene standards or ABA manufacturing techniques.
This system aligns perfectly with Foodstuff’s packaging principles to achieve zero waste. The way Reposit works is easily understood, the packaging is simple to recycle, and re-use is at the heart of its design. It even got a great response from Kelly, who said she loved the concept.
There are already strong precedents to prove deposit systems like ours work. Globelet and Reusabowl show the value of a deposit system to capitalise on the trend toward sustainable brands.
Globelet is a growing cup deposit system for events. They handle all of the logistics, so events can pay a single fee and reduce their waste. Their increasing popularity at big events shows the potential for these systems.
Reusabowl recently launched its returnable takeaway bowl system in Wellington and has received significant interest from locals. Reusabowls can be deposited across the city, and participating restaurants pay a monthly fee that they would spend on single use containers anyway.
These growing systems show the eagerness of Kiwis to participate in genuine zero waste solutions. With this enthusiasm, Foodstuffs needs to take part in it quickly.
Launching a container system can be difficult and slow in a big business, which is why it hasn’t happened in a supermarket. But, people want zero waste solutions as fast as possible. That’s why we handle all the logistics, so Foodstuffs can rapidly capture the trend towards returnable solutions.
Here’s how the business side of it works. First, each supermarket pays a one off cost for a fleet of Reposit containers. We recommend a supermarket’s fleet should be about 3000 containers. This will cost about what they’d pay for the same number of single use containers. To maintain their fleet, the supermarket also pays a monthly subscription.
The subscription cost is not much more than the current monthly costs of buying single use. It pays for us to take care of all the logistics, including the cleaning and transportation of their fleet, as well as critical production costs to replace and recycle broken containers. Most importantly, it allows New World to quickly reduce its waste without the logistical nightmares of setting it up themselves.
A typical New World’s Reposit fleet would cost six hundred dollars, and its subscription cost would be around one thousand two hundred and fifty dollars a month. We’re also applying for a grant from the Waste Minimisation Fund, and local crowdsourcing, to cover fixed costs to set up operations.
That’s expenses like buying a commercial steriliser, an electric van to transport containers and initial production costs. Our system is simple, efficient and easy to establish.
Our minimum viable product is replacing all single use plastic for delis in all twelve New Worlds in Wellington. It would allow for a seamless pilot: no matter what New World someone visits with their container, they can participate in the system. We want to expand to every New World, and eventually every Foodstuffs supermarket across Aotearoa. As we grow, our business costs will spread further and we become even more cost effective.
Based on information from Kelly at Foodstuffs, we estimate that 330,000 containers will be diverted from the landfill from just one year of our MVP. Although the subscription is around $250 a month more than buying single use, customers will reward this investment with strong brand loyalty.
Sustainable businesses have higher margins and valuations, and 48% of Kiwis are deliberately switching to sustainable brands. It is a small monthly investment for significant market growth. This system adjustment will make a big dent in Foodstuff’s waste and help them lead in the transition to zero waste.
The waste crisis is mounting up, and Reposit is a system whose time has come. New World has the ambition to lead the industry, and we have the logistics to make that a reality. Together we can build a circular economy fit for real people, and end the waste crisis in our deli section.