Ditch it, or get ditched: Meet the entrepreneurs giving their suppliers an eco-conscious ultimatum


Adelaide's pop-up Bookshop founder Kate Treloar. Source: supplied.

Aussie businesses are having frank conversations with their suppliers about wasteful packaging in an effort to reduce their environmental footprints amid skyrocketing recycling costs.

National Recycling Week is in full swing, and as founding organisation Planet Ark celebrates the 24th anniversary of the campaign, business owners say they’re ramping up their own efforts to cut down on excess waste.

For Kate Treloar and Nick Patrick, founders of Adelaide’s Pop-up Bookshop, commitment to ecological responsibility took a daring turn earlier this year when the business boycotted one of its major suppliers, book distributor HEDS, over excessive plastic fill in its orders.

As Treloar detailed in a recent social media post for its customers, the company was being sent boxes packed to the brim with packaging.

Treloar tells SmartCompany the decision, which saw her business part ways with the source of about a fifth of its stock, wasn’t easy, but several months on, new suppliers and compostable packaging have reduced the bookshop’s environmental footprint.

“Suppliers ignore this issue at their peril,” Treloar says.

“Boycotting wasn’t my first choice, but I wasn’t comfortable dealing with the waste, so we took a drastic step.”

The business owner says having frank conversations with suppliers about the type of packaging they’re using has become increasingly important as customers align themselves with companies doing their bit to cut down on waste.

“We’re all responsible for our own sphere of influence. If everyone can take a positive step we can make some genuine progress,” Treloar says.

Adelaide’s pop-up Bookshop isn’t the only company negotiating with suppliers on packaging waste, earlier this year, Adore Beauty detailed its own experience with reducing its plastic intake by shaking up its supply chain.

Sustainable suppliers

Firms looking to approach their suppliers with concerns or negotiate better solutions are advised to try and educate their suppliers.

Julie Mathers, founder of e-commerce business Flora & Fauna, tells SmartCompany her business seeks out products that come with compostable packaging.

“Anything we have from our operation that needs recycling gets recycled, but our aim is to minimise,” Mathers says.


Flora & Fauna founder Julie Mathers (left) advises entrepreneurs to educate their suppliers.

“As an example, one product we sell, a compostable dishcloth, came in a plastic sleeve.

“It seemed crazy so we asked the supplier to not send ours in plastic.

“They were doing so as some retailers wanted it due to hygiene and barcoding,” Mathers says.

“Barcodes we need, but plastic we don’t, so we addressed the barcode issue internally.”

Recycling costs spike

Efforts to convince suppliers to reduce waste come as plastic recycling costs increase for businesses, following an upheaval in Australia’s waste management industries in the wake of China’s 2017 decision to ban waste imports from foreign countries.

The ban, which will be extended again at the end of the year, has resulted in a sharp increase in the cost of plastic recycling, in particular, explains expert Mark Ritchie of MRA Consulting.

“Most of Australia’s recycling that we collect has been exported to Asia over the last 30 years,” Ritchie tells SmartCompany.

“The effect [of the import ban] has been an oversupply of plastic globally and not enough recyclers … the price has collapsed so collectors in Australia aren’t earning as much.”

Australia’s recycling report card is nothing to write home about – of the 3.4 million tonnes of plastic consumed Down Under in 2017-18, only 9.4% was recycled, according to government figures. 

Independent supermarkets SmartCompany has spoken with in recent months report paying up to $30 per bin pickup for plastic waste, which they say was free only a year ago.

Ritchie says businesses are “economic rationalists” and is concerned higher costs will reduce recycling rates, stymying efforts to reduce Australia’s reliance on landfill.

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