We are a zero waste business...here's how

Aim for zero

It was 2014 and a friend I'd made at a yoga retreat shared a Facebook post by Trash is for Tossers - a girl in New York who produces a jam jar of waste per year. That got my attention!

I joined Zero Waste Ireland Facebook group and started, item by item, to try and prevent all my own waste - not just landfill/incineration general waste, but also recyclables. Pick an item in either bin, and figure-out how to avoid bringing it into your home in the first place. Only buy what you really need, and try to get that pre-loved (and sell it on again when finished). Say goodbye to single-use...think circular. Recycle or compost the waste you can't prevent - but only as a last resort.

I've made progress, and I have much, much more to do!

This experience taught me how transformative it is to start from the goal of zero waste. Zero waste is unachievable - but aiming for it changes how you think and behave. It throws-out the modern consumer mindset I grew up surrounded by (which accepts huge amounts of waste as normal). It makes you re-think everything from scratch, from a totally different staring point (one which does not accept any waste as normal).

By the time I started Jiminy in 2018, my zero waste mindset was well established. I took it for granted we would buy all our equipment second-hand and resell it when finished. I took it for granted we would not accept any plastic packaging or plastic products. Of course we would aim to produce zero waste.

And you know what? We've gotten pretty close to zero. We don't have a bin collection service. We've never gotten-in a skip. And it's been easy. Because we took that goal as given.

So, I'll share below some practical things we do to minimise our waste - but I suspect the biggest thing any business can do, is to decide, to aim for zero.

Refuse, reduce, and reuse first...only then recycle, rot, or bin

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot, landfill / incinerate

Have you seen this inverted pyramid of waste avoidance before?

  1. Our greatest power against waste is 'refuse' - don't buy what we don't really need; say no to pointless packaging / single-use straws and cutlery / etc.
  2. If we can't do without, then 'reduce' (buy / take less of it, choose products from more sustainable materials).
  3. Once something exists, 'reuse' - buy and sell preloved, repair to make things last longer, reusable cups / bottles / cutlery / wipes / etc in place of disposables.
  4. If we can't reuse then 'recycle', or 'rot' (compost) to minimise landfill / incineration.

Look how low-down 'recycle' ranks...it's in the bottom-half!

Here's how we apply this in our business

"Refusing" is our greatest power as a business to change things for the better.

We refuse any plastic packaging from our suppliers. Every purchase order we send includes a standard request, "Please pack plastic-free - if you feel you need to use any plastic packaging, please call me before you pack." Anytime there is any plastic packaging included in a shipment from a supplier, we make a big deal out of it, to ensure they pay more attention next time. We write a strongly-worded complaint, we ask them to send a courier to take it back.

Some businesses feel good just to reuse any plastic packaging that arrives-in to them, but we feel this isn't enough. If you keep accepting it, they'll keep buying it, the plastic producers will keep making it...this all has to stop, and if you won't be the one to stop it, who will?

As a starting point, we refuse to stock toys made from, or packed in, virgin petro-plastic. We ask suppliers to remove or replace plastic packaging and any unnecessary packaging, so we can stock that toy. We help them source more sustainable alternatives.

We have made a few, very carefully-thought-out, experimental exceptions to this, but 93% of our store is entirely plastic-free (sadly, a typical toystore is the inverse of that statistic).

This approach has helped several suppliers switch from bubblewrap / SealedAir to shredded cardboard as a filler in the boxes they send us. Two have at our request changed from plastic bags or pots to plant-based ones instead. And a lot of toy makers have heard us say, "I'm sorry we can't stock that product because it's made from plastic, or it's packed in plastic - call us back when that has changed."

Reuse (AKA circular economy) is just how we roll

When we've needed equipment we've bought it pre-loved, made it last, and sold it on again when we were done with it.

We got:

  • So many sets of shelving pre-loved on Adverts.ie;
  • Our tables pre-loved from my neighbours;
  • Our printer pre-loved from my local office supply store which sells pre-loved equipment;
  • Our tape gun and lots of shelving pre-loved on Adverts.ie;
  • Our warehouse "need a sit-down" chairs on loan from a local family via my local Facebook freecycle group;
  • Our warehouse laptop on loan from my friend;
  • My laptop pre-loved from my local computer store;
  • Our mobile phones pre-loved (with warranty) from CEX.

We use something until it no longer works and then get it repaired, e.g., our phones. "Time to upgrade everyone's phone" used to happen every year or two at my old employer...let's just say, this is not how we think about things!

When we are finished with something we sell it or freecycle it:

  • Once we moved warehouse and sold all our shelving on Adverts.ie, for the same price we had paid for it there a few months previously;
  • We offer random things we end-up with on my local Facebook freecycle group; they are often taken by other (grateful) small businesses. Paper bags for paintbrushes we just weren't using. Wooden nail polish displays we no longer needed. Pieces of wood some spare puzzle pieces were sent to us in. Some rat-themed papercraft kits we just could not sell. We freecycled them all. Snap a photo, post the offer, it's usually gone the next day.

WONKY stock is an important, but more difficult, aspect of reuse and zero waste.

Sometimes stock has a rough ride to us and arrives damaged. The producer doesn't want it back, we can't sell it at full price, what to do? Take a photo, list it on our website as 'WONKY' with a description of its imperfections, and sell it at a discount. It usually sells very quickly!

But I can understand why huge retailers don't do this. It's labour-intensive - photographing and listing on your website each damaged product. You need storage space for the wonky stock. And if you're not careful, staff will mix-up wonky and perfect stock. We had one wonky box of blocks we sold 4 times - every time it sold, the customer got sent a perfect box, because our staff were busy and didn't notice "WONKY" on the packing slip.

Our zero waste packing room

We send our orders out to customers packed in:
  • Cardboard boxes we received stock in - we reuse all of them, but they are not enough, so we also buy recycled cardboard boxes. We'd love to establish a national box reuse scheme - on our to-do list (contact us to help);
  • Brown paper packing tape. Fits in a tape gun. Works perfectly;
  • Box filler: We reuse whatever non-plastic filler we have received from our suppliers. We also buy rolls of recycled brown paper to scrunch-up as filler;
  • Any waste - like the roll from a finised roll of tape - we use as filler.

We recycle very little...

...because we generate very little waste. A few sheets of paper a day.

One single-use thing we would love to replace with a reusable is pallet wrap. Pallets of stock can't be shipped without wrapping to keep them stable - stock undamaged and everyone safe - as they are moved. We've heard about reusable pallet socks and would love to get those going (a big job on the to-do list!).

Meanwhile, although soft plastics are not accepted for recycling from households in Ireland, they are accepted from businesses. We don't have a waste collection service (because we don't generate any other waste) so we asked another small business to include our pallet wrap in what they send to recycling.

We send just 2 things to general waste (landfill / incineration)

We produce about 1 kitchen bin bag of general waste every 2-3 months.
  1. The backing of our DPD labels. They are paper but silicone-coated and too thin to recycle. We've looked but not yet found a workable solution to this.
  2. Those plastic ties that hold stock onto pallets or hold bundles of boxes being delivered to us. Another one to investigate and eliminate in the future.