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Finding opportunity in a recycling challenge

NSM staff and recycling bins

For years, New Seasons Market has invited customers to take their hard-to-recycle plastics to stores, to make it easier and more convenient for customers to recycle “extra” plastics that aren’t allowed in their blue recycling bins at work or at home.

This October, new restrictions in the international recycling markets meant the store’s previous options for recycling “extra” plastics stopped. With no place to send the collected material, New Seasons had to stop offering the collection service.

New Seasons saw these changes as an opportunity to reevaluate plastics and packaging across their business. They focused on three key areas: educating and retraining staff, addressing packaging, and examining plastic in the customer shopping experience.

Following the hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Using the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy for guidance, they spoke with staff, suppliers and customers to discuss ideas for reducing and reusing in each area.

Here are some of the ideas – some are just getting started and others have been in place for years:

 BYO coffee mug sign at NSM  NSM customers with reusable bag NSM Bag it forward

Engaging customers

To help answer questions from customers about the changes to plastics recycling, New Seasons Market added educational messaging and resources on their website. They also posted educational signs in stores, and have brought in a Master Recycler volunteer to help answer questions at one store location (with more to come).

In stores, staff and signs encourage customers towards reusable options:

  • Reusable dishes for in-store dining.
  • Safe use of reusable customer containers and bags for bulk and produce.
  • Financial incentives for using a reusable coffee mug and bringing reusable grocery bags.

Sign in diary case with tips for using less packaging

Educating staff

At each store, employee Green Teams focused on reminding staff about which items can and cannot be recycled, and the importance of sorting properly and making sure items are sufficiently clean.

Working with suppliers

New Seasons Market staff contacted vendors to discuss options for switching shipping materials and packaging to more recyclable or reusable options.

Products made with less stuff: New Seasons' thinner plastic produce bags are an example of lightweighting, or reducing the quantity of material that goes into the manufacture of an item, thereby reducing the environmental impact of resources used and the environmental impacts derived from transporting it. The thinner bags use 35 percent less material.

Reusable shipping containers: Most of New Seasons' wellness products arrive in plastic reusable shipping totes that get returned to the vendor.

Deposit containers: New Seasons sells some local dairy products in reusable, glass deposit bottles.

Local bike transport: By partnering with a local trike-delivery service, B-line, local products are delivered to stores with fewer transportation emissions and less packaging.

Continuous improvement

For New Seasons Market, looking for opportunities and partnerships to improve sustainability is a continual process. This spring they plan to look at their internal packaging (grab-and-go foods), with an eye towards reducing, reusing and recycling.

How can you find opportunity in this recycling challenge?

Take advantage of the incentives New Seasons and others offer for bringing your own coffee mug and reusable bag. Avoid packaging by buying bulk products – and bring your own reusable containers. If you work downtown and eat out, sign up for reusable take-out containers.

Reusable alternatives

You can do a lot at your workplace as well, including buying items in bulk to avoid individual packaging, switching to reusable dishware in the breakroom and at catered events, and talking to vendors about reducing their packaging and shipping materials.

ResourcefulPDXAt both home and work, avoid one-time-use disposable items, and aim to buy products that you can use for years to come. Long-lasting products will save you the time and hassle of frequent replacements, reduce packaging and product waste, and likely save you money in the long run.

Find more ideas for reducing, reusing and “buying smart” at ResourcefulPDX.

Learn more:

Thanks to New Seasons Market for sharing their story. All photos of stores, staff and customers credited to New Seasons Market.