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Sustain Aotearoa - A New Association Of Zero Waste Grocers Launches

A new association of independent zero waste grocers has launched today.

Sustain Aotearoa - Independent Zero Waste Grocers aims to increase the prevalence, influence and efficacy of grocers who are committed to minimising consumer and in-store packaging and food waste across New Zealand.

“Zero waste grocers are stores who sell everyday essentials - from food and pantry items through to toiletries and cleaning products - without single-use packaging”, says President of Sustain Aotearoa, Bron Green, who is also the owner of Be Free Grocer in Palmerston North.

“Generally, our members fall into one of two categories: either they stock unpackaged product in bulk dispensers or ‘on tap’, so that customers can fill their own reusable bags, bottles and containers; or they pack goods into reusable packaging, like glass jars, that they’ll then take back from the customer when empty for sterilising and refilling.”

“Our point of difference from other stores with bulk bin aisles is that we don’t also have aisles with products in single-use packaging. We’re zero waste only - that’s a key part of our membership criteria”, explains Green.

Over the last two years, New Zealand has seen a massive growth in dedicated zero waste grocers, with a 110% increase in the number of such stores in 2019 alone. More still have opened this year, seeing the national total hit 23, spread across eight regions. Twelve of the stores are independent and owner-operated.

“Most of us are stand-alone SMEs, dotted around the country. We don’t automatically have the buying power or big voice of major supermarket chains or franchises. However, we all share this really strong vision of reducing the enormous amounts of packaging waste in our current food system, and bringing healthy kai to our communities at affordable prices.”

“So, we created Sustain Aotearoa as a support network for the stores. We all recognise that by collaborating, we can grow the zero waste sector and magnify our positive impact”, says Green.

“We also want to act as a resource for new stores starting out. We’ve all been there; we know how hard it is to set up. If Sustain Aotearoa can help others get off the ground more quickly, with the benefit of our members’ learnings, that’d be a great outcome.”

Not only do the members of Sustain Aotearoa minimise the waste that they pass on to customers, they also work with suppliers to reduce packaging behind the scenes too. This has led many of the stores to hunt out local, New Zealand-grown products.

“Looking local is key to cutting waste in supply chains. It’s always easier to work with someone you’ve met directly, to chat about whether they can supply you a little bit differently. And it’s easier to trial reusable packaging systems with local suppliers. We’ve found a real hunger amongst local suppliers for these kinds of conversations. The only reason many haven’t done it already is because no retailer has ever asked them before,” says Nicola Cross, Secretary of Sustain Aotearoa and owner of Honest Wholefood Co in Wanaka.

The impact of a collective voice to influence supply chains is obvious. “At Honest Wholefood Co, we’d be on the phone to suppliers constantly, encouraging them to rethink their bulk packaging. But being able to engage with suppliers and major distributors as a collective of stores helps us advance zero waste supply chains faster - it makes suppliers see that there’s a growing market for this”, says Cross.

“For many of our members, we’ll actually look to switch suppliers if our current ones aren’t willing to work on reducing backroom packaging waste. None of us want to order beautiful food and have it arrive on a palette shrink-wrapped in one-use plastic. These are the systems we hope to change, both through our advocacy and through our ability to develop and trial alternatives that other players may choose to adopt in the future too.”

Sustain Aotearoa currently has 12 members from across New Zealand, ranging from Whangārei through to Wanaka and Hawea, including:

· Forward (Whangārei)

· Sprout The Grocer (Birkenhead, Auckland)

· Plastic Free Pantry (Waiheke Island, Auckland)

· The Store Room (Te Awamutu)

· Re-Store (Thames)

· Unpakd (Ahuriri, Napier)

· Be Free Grocer (Palmerston North

· Hopper - Refill, Shop & Cafe (Wellington)

· Honest Wholefood Co (Wanaka & Hawea)

The association encourages anyone who runs an independent zero waste store or who is thinking of starting up, to get in touch.

To apply for membership, email Nicola Cross (Secretary) at info@honestwholefoodco.co.nz to receive a membership criteria form.

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