The War on Waste continues: Small businesses explain how sustainability is the new customer expectation


KeepCup co-founder Abigail Forsyth. Source:Supplied.

In this year’s “war” against businesses and consumers using unnecessary packaging, visuals have been a key piece of arsenal.

It was the image of a tram stuffed with disposable coffee cups on the ABC’s War on Waste program that sparked a frenzy of interest in reusable cups and storage products in June.

War on Waste returned to TV screens this week with a special follow-up episode to the first series, and in the intervening months there has been plenty of movement on policies that steer companies and customers away from practises that result in landfill rather than sustainable consumption.

Plastic bags have been ditched by more states and the big supermarkets have moved to almost-identical policies to eradicate single use carry bags, while this week marks the start of a container-deposit scheme in New South Wales, allowing residents of the state to recoup 10c for every eligible bottle and can dropped off for recycling.

The push for national policies on issues like plastic bags and recycling is on, with War on Waste host Craig Reucassel spending a decent amount of time trying to lobby state premiers, like Victoria’s Daniel Andrews, to adopt the policies of other states.

Meanwhile, small businesses are telling SmartCompany that the customer’s hunger for policies that reduce the overall amount of waste within businesses are presenting new opportunities across the board.

For Bluebag, the Melbourne salad business founded by Keepcup co-founders Abigail and Jamie Forsyth, a reduction in packaging is now a central part of operations.

The business has been offering customers a 20c discount off their coffee orders if they bring their own cup, while a new scheme offering 50c off a salad if a customer brings their own containers is really taking off, says general manager Jonathon Volk.

“The uptake on our recent initiative to provide a discount for customers who bring their own bowls has been really strong and expect it to grow as our customers become more aware of it and the second series of War on Waste screens. We are currently looking at options to sell reusable salad bowls in our stores,” he says.

The business started rolling out the “bring your own” food container option in October, and rather than it being a concept solely driven by management, the business says it was customers coming in-store and asking whether they could avoid having a reusable salad container that really showed the idea had legs.

In July Abigail Forsyth told SmartCompany sales of KeepCups had increased 400% after the premiere of War on Waste. Volk says Bluebag continues to see sales of the product through the stores, explaining the customer engagement with these kinds of products have been “remarkable” this year.

“Be on the ball all the time” for new ideas

Brendan Washington, co-owner of bicycle and coffee business Washington Cyclisme, says his business is always on the lookout for simple ideas to reduce the impact of packaging across all elements of the retail store.

The Wodonga-based small business has seen more and more customers jumping on board with reusable coffee cups this year, with a 50 cent discount on offer for those who avoid using paper cups.

“In store, we also have no plastic bags, we use recycled paper bags, we recycle all our packaging from our items, and we wanted to minimise the amount of waste,” Washington says. 

There’s clear customer interest in sustainable business policies, with the small business also selling SoL reusable coffee cups to customers. But Washington says that beyond coffee cups, retailers are often left at the mercy of suppliers when it comes to how much other packaging materials come into their businesses.

You’ve got no control over what the stock comes in, and bigger wholesalers use a lot of packaging,” he says. 

One way the business has tried to mitigate this is by encouraging staff to recycle properly; with one small rubbish bin and two larger recycling bins, “you force” people to think about how they are getting rid of the materials, Washington says.

“I’d say be on the ball all the time for any new idea or simple solution to reduce waste. From a business point of view, waste also just costs a lot to dispose of.”

Mörk & SoL @ Washington Cyclisme.

A post shared by WashingtonCyclismeBicycleStore (@washington.cyclisme) on

Business processes in focus

JOCO Cups, Matt Colegate

JOCO Cups founder Matt Colegate. Source: Supplied

Matt Colegate is the founder of glass reusable coffee cup business, JOCO Cups. He tells SmartCompany programs like War on Waste have seen a flood of well-informed customers approaching his business.

“The focus has moved from a mindset of people being interested, to the questioning that’s really in depth, and now consumers seem to be looking for real, long term changes,” Colegate says.

JOCO provides products that are completely plastic-free, with Colegate saying the aim of the business was to dispel the myth that reusable plastic products were ultimately recyclable.

But Colegate says the very process of launching the company back in 2009 showed him how reliant the business world is on plastic packaging and products.

“We very quickly encountered the fact that it was going to be very hard to do this and remain competitive and meet requirements of the end consumer. What we have now is industry-leading techniques,” he says.

Despite the challenging set-up, Colegate says he believes that given customer’s increase in sustainable practices, now is prime time for businesses to think about whether their whole supply chains are sustainable.

More and more businesses should be taking a look at that, and by doing this straight away, you can really make a difference,” he says. 

Making yourself accountable for sustainable practices doesn’t have to cost the earth either, he says.

You don’t need to be doing things on a big basis — you can start out really simply. You can manage this within a usual cash flow situation.” 

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