Ecostore is an exemplar of how a business can take transformative action to rethink how we use plastics and inspire system-wide change.
To enable people to reduce their use of non-renewable single-use plastics, Ecostore:
- Shifted from fossil-based plastic to plastic from a sustainable resource – sugarcane – which is fully recyclable. Ecostore has published a detailed case study about their journey switching to sugar plastic.
- Incorporate post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic into their products – currently they use 50% PCR plastic in dish powder bottles and 10% PCR plastic in their two highest-volume products, laundry and dish liquid bottles, with plans to increase this over time.
- Provide refill stations to enable people to reuse bottles and have made these easier to access for more people by increasing the number of stations and expanding from green stores to mainstream supermarkets.
- Is trialling a closed-loop packaging return program to take responsibility for their products at end-of-life. This creates high-quality recycling streams, which helps keep the resource in circulation.
- Reduced the amount of plastic they use in bottles by 15-18% for a number of their high volume products, therefore reducing the overall use of plastic for the same product and purchasing practices.
- Made bottles from ocean plastics to remove existing waste from our environment and reduce the resources and energy needed to create new packaging, and start a conversation about where plastic comes from and ultimately where it can end up.
Other businesses rethinking their use of plastics can learn from their approach and experiences. Some actions that have helped Ecostore be able to achieve these changes are:
- Prioritising a reduction in the environmental impact of their products: By having this as a core value of the business, decisions don’t rest solely on the cost of products or packaging, but are based on a longer-term view about the impacts of the whole life cycle of a product. This allowed the business to move to a renewable plastic with a higher raw material cost, over 5 years ago.
- Making commitments and pledges: As signatories of the Climate Leaders Coalition CEO’s Climate Change Statement and the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, the business has to measure and report on targets related to carbon footprint and plastic packaging use. This provides concrete goals to reach and can help galvanise change.
- Considering a range of alternatives and why they may or may not work in our local context: For example, Ecostore decided not switch to the compostable plastic (PLA) for several reasons, including the lack of commercial composting infrastructure to manage the waste and the risk that these products may contaminate recycling streams. This meant that the business made the switch to bio-based HDPE (#2) plastic four years after they initially scoped out a potential option, but that they were more confident their product was suitable for Aotearoa New Zealand when they did make the switch.
- Educating their team about circular thinking: Even though Ecostore has always been driven by sustainable and circular practices, they see it as essential that the whole team has a solid understanding of circular principles and how these drive innovation and business systems. Ecostore sought help from Circularity (a Kiwi circular strategy agency) to embed understanding of circular principles within the business and wider team, and to explore what circular products and systems could become through a series of design sprints. This has helped to foster the business culture around rethinking use and disposal of plastics.
- Working with like-minded businesses: Ecostore partners with suppliers and retailers who implement sustainability initiatives and want to challenge the status quo. This has allowed the business to find a renewable source of plastic and provide over 60 refill stations for products throughout the country. They have also partnered with Danish packaging manufacturer, Pack Tech, who source ocean plastics to create packaging.
- Recognising that a step-wise approach is needed. Progress won’t happen at the rate needed to mitigate plastic pollution if we wait for perfect solutions, so Ecostore is trialling a program to take the pressure off Aotearoa
New Zealand’s overwhelmed recycling system while the practices of reuse systems (e.g. product refills) become more habitual for people. Providing different solutions will help reduce waste to landfill as people become more familiar with new practices.
- Seeing rethinking plastics an ongoing challenge: The business doesn’t stop once one improvement is made, but continues to think about ways to reduce the footprint of their products through packaging and manufacturing innovations. They also provide a range of options to suit the needs and preferences of different people.