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I'm starting a zero waste grocery delivery service in NYC. Anybody interested? (zerowastenyc.shop)
151 points by richhomiepran on Feb 16, 2023 | hide | past | favorite | 126 comments

There’s a “zero waste” store here in Bushwick. Everything you buy is in giant barrels / tubs. However, if you look into it, they actually source everything in relatively small bags that they break down and dump into large tubs. It’s a problem earlier in the supply chain. How do you plan to address this?

I met the owners of a store like this in the Bay Area. Their backyard is filled with left over plastic containers because they’re embarrassed to be seen taking anything to the dump.

Similarly I used to work overnight in a strip mall next door to a PC/e-waste "recycling" place. Out back in the alley was just a massive pile of obsolete 90s/early 2000s PCs that hadn't been broken down or stripped of e-waste in any way. I'd go rummaging through it sometimes looking for a usable Pentium 3 processor and some ram. Maybe a hard disk that wasn't roached. Built a bunch of fun little Linux computers with those.

Anyway, the owner went to jail for something or other unrelated. I'm sure all that stuff went to the landfill.

> I'm sure all that stuff went to the landfill.

I assume almost everything I “recycle” goes to landfill too. It just happened to go to a landfill in China before they stopped accepting it.

Paper, glass, and metals, in larger chunks, likely get recycled, because it's economically sensible.

Anything more complicated, especially tightly bound together, is likely cheaper to dump on a landfill. Which I think is sort of fine for non-toxic, non-volatile stuff.

Pretty much, I recall: https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/4/20992240/e-waste-recyclin...

whenever recycling e-waste comes up.

Shouldn't e-waste be highly profitable to recycle with that high concentration of metals? Urban mining at our doorstep and not halfway across the globe and a mile underground. Is the separation of all the materials inherently unprofitable or aren't the upfront investments to get things going just never made?

>Shouldn't e-waste be highly profitable to recycle with that high concentration of metals?

Based on some videos of people attempting DIY metal extraction from e-waste, no not really. Sure there's valuable metal there, but only thin films of it, and that's before you get to the extraction problem. Sure you can dissolve the metals off the boards with acid, but then you've got a solution of mixed dissolved metals you've got to process back into different pure metals, and deal with all the chemical waste. A gram of copper is ~$0.01 according to a quick search so it's pretty difficult to get any profit.

edit: don't know what the first metal prices site found I was smoking, but accurate prices make the case even more.

Small correction: Copper is currently around $9 USD/Kg.

Which is just about $0.01/gram, as the commenter stated.

Parent originally stated $4/gram. Perhaps the post was amended without notation.

Edit: @bragr: No worries, I'm just bad at reading sometimes or possibly even all the time. My mistake.

I literally added a whole "edited: ..." line to the end when I updated it.

Wouldn't a yard full of plastic containers be... more embarrassing?

You can’t see it from the street so it’s a “secret.” Though to be honest I don’t think it’s a rational decision - not a psychologist but pretty sure there’s some mental health issues going on.

People are funny! Thanks for sharing :)

Typical narcissistic image keeping

An owner of a store which gets the stuff in plastic should also be better at recycling the plastic. Since the plastic bags are also going to a few consumers, they could also insist they're more recyclable and/or reusable.

This is why I've always appreciated Costco - they substituted out shopping bags for cardboard pallet cases. So the waste that walks in through their front door walks out with customers and is put to a productive use. Rather than being performative and de-packaging items before a customer sees them they actually do an effective job at reducing waste by reusing items that would otherwise just go straight to recycling.

It just pushes the recycling onto the customer. It’s not like those containers disappear. They don’t give out bags and don’t guarantee a box anyways.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it to save on labor and garbage pickup costs of breaking down and hauling away all those boxes.

Recycling is great but it's the least effective of the trio of actions if you recall the triangle of arrows: "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" - Reducing is the best option but by the time goods leave a factory they're already plastered in packaging. While costco can work with suppliers to reduce packaging (and I think it's pretty clear they do by buying special bulk sized options) - there's a decent chunk of material flowing into their locations. That leaves two options, recycle and reuse - if we were to immediately recycle we'd spend a lot of energy recovering the raw material from the box and reforming it to a new good, before we do that if we can get another use out of its current incarnation then that's awesome - we essentially get a brand new box for "free" because we're not spending energy to break it down, remold it, repaint it and do other crap. And then it goes home to the customer - this may vary based on location but where I am in Canada there are extremely accessible recycling curbside pickup options, so I'd wager that a fair majority of those boxes end up getting reused anyways.

And sure, there's a cynical view you can take on how much money the company is saving but hey - if they're saving that money while reducing their environmental impact all props to them.

Costco does sell some items in unnecessary blister packs. Not sure why they do that.

I volunteered at a music festival once that had a large recycling program. We piled all the trash into large piles but weren't given instructions on what to do with the recycling.

In the end, time was tight. They told us to mix it all together, and their tractors that hauled it were also putting it all in the same place, to dump in a landfill.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Individual actions like these feel good for people, but don't really make much headway on the broader problems. For example if you are vegan, you are not directly supporting the factory farming of animal products, but meanwhile people will continue buying those products. I would venture to guess that inconvenient legislations like plastic straw or plastic bag bans have far more powerful outcomes than these sort of individual lifestyle efforts.

> For example if you are vegan, you are not directly supporting the factory farming of animal products, but meanwhile people will continue buying those products.

This doesn’t make sense. Supply is driven by demand. Every vegan increases demand for plant-based products while decreasing demand for animal products. It is quantifiable. It is measurable. If every person on earth went vegan overnight, animal agriculture (one of the worst contributors to greenhouse gas emissions) would end immediately. ”Going vegan won’t make a difference” is just an excuse people use to avoid changing their behaviour.

This is very different to the greenwashing being discussed here, where the same amount of waste is produced, but it’s handled by the store instead of the consumer. In this case, no difference is being made.

that's pretty bad, but is it 25 lbs of flour or rice or standard sized small consumer bags? The latter would be somewhat farcical, although I supposed you could argue that there's a chicken and egg problem and that once a supplier offers bulk sales they can trivially switch.

I buy rice in 25kg sacks just like the bulk buy places do. And a bunch of other stuff from a wholesale outlet that sells larger containers.

Our local food co-ops buy most of their stuff in 20kg or bigger containers. One even managed to get a 200 litre drum of concentrated dishwashing liquid.

Warning: after some discussion with members we dilute the concentrate two parts water to one part concentrate because buyers mostly dilute it ~the same again or just "use less". When we tested the "use less" people we found they used about half... the stuff is approx 10x the concentration of normal dishwashing liquid. Use a spray bottle that you bought full of something else for dishwashing liquid. It's very convenient and you can dilute it to suit what people in your house actually do.

By the sound of it, the plastic waste (that has already been manufactured) is being concentrated into the responsibility of a centralized entity, instead of dispersed further down the supply chain, where it will be more difficult to recover. I don't really see this as a problem.

What you're saying is the real innovation is creating a zero waste supply chain. Would require a lot of sanitization, which probably offsets the benefit of no plastic.

It doesn’t need to be zero waste, increasing the volume of the containers is already a big reduction of packaging.

Relative to what? The giant barrels? The average amount a customer takes? Something else?

I believe you are referring to Precycle?

Interesting, I didn't know this. Somewhere I can find more info?

Could you still answer his question?

fourandtwenty isn't the OP.

Ah, I saw a green username and did not read carefully. Apologies to them

I don't have evidence yet that ours is doing that but I'm sceptical even of the barrels.

Product manager here - I suspect that zero waste is a weak/negative value proposition.

All of the "waste" costs someone something. Companies pay to make those bottles, boxes, etc.

The reason they do it is because it's still cheaper and more efficient than the alternative. Even at their scale.

So how do you make it valuable at your scale? How much of a premium are your customers going to pay to avoid a milk jug?

> I suspect that zero waste is a weak/negative value proposition.

This is probably because the social / environmental cost of leaving all the trash you create in a landfill forever is an externality - you don't pay for it with your milk cartons and individually plastic wrapped potatoes. One way of thinking about the environmentalist movement is that it's an individualistic effort to price in one's own externalities, since American society more broadly is unable or unwilling to do this.

Of course broadly these efforts aren't going to solve the waste problem - if they could, manufacturers would not have the incentive to sell products this way - but there will always be a niche market for this sort of thing.

Are landfills really an externality? You pay for them through property taxes. They're regulated not to leech harmful chemicals into the environment. Their harmful emissions, like methane, generally come from food waste, which has nothing to do with the landfill itself.

The property tax you pay doesn't cover the externalities of the landfill - it pays for trash pickup and (roughly) opportunity cost for the land being used as landfill, as well as landfill maintenance required by regulations.

Probably the biggest externality here is the environmental cost of producing all the single use plastic containers in the first place, but the landfill itself will have externalities too.

Eventually, the rate of semi-permanent waste creation by humans on Earth will have to equilibrate with the rate at which semi-permanent waste is absorbed by the environment. Otherwise, the amount of waste would continue to increase indefinitely. We can certainly go a very long time at our current rate of waste creation, which is why the costs to future-people isn't included in the price. But those costs are real, and potentially include making sure chemical leeching doesn't occur over hundreds or thousands of years, not just decades.

> But the landfill itself will have externalities too.

Such as? As I mentioned, landfills are already regulated to prevent leeching harmful byproducts into the environment and many of the harmful things produced by landfills that do escape, e.g. methane, isn't really specific to the landfill itself.

There is no signaling mechanism to indicate their cost to the consumer.

Your entire block might switch to zero waste and would likely see no reduction in their property taxes (any reduction would probably simply reduce the local government's deficit).

Local governments don’t generally run deficits (in the US). And there definitely is a price signaling mechanism. If trash becomes more expensive to dispose of, that cost is passed on to consumers via higher taxes.

> There is no signaling mechanism to indicate their cost to the consumer.

Where is this true? In every jurisdiction I've ever lived in trash service has been private and I've had to pay for it myself. The service fee is based on volume of trash container. I've always had direct feedback on trash disposal costs.

There is no limit on the waste, and therefore no market. It is an arbitrary price placed by politicians. Imagine if oil prices were not dicated by a market and a by a production cartel rather by politicans in the US.

One way of thinking about the environmentalist movement is that it's an individualistic effort to price in one's own externalities, since American society more broadly is unable or unwilling to do this.

Nah. If this was what was going on we’d expect to see a lot more substitutions, offsets, and so on.

Instead the focus seems to be on personal virtue vis-a-vis the environment and particularly public demonstrations of personal virtue, rather than in maximizing effectiveness.

For example, why is residential rooftop solar being built out in the Pacific Northwest?

I totally get that. The question is - will enough people give a shit / buy in.

> The reason they do it is because it's still cheaper and more efficient than the alternative.

There's actually a different reason they don't do it: Reusable containers make for a difficult business plan, because it's the reverse of a new-customer discount if you have to charge for the reusable container.

This makes it tough to, for example, start a takeaway using reusable stainless steel containers.

Why not offer it for free? My grocery store gave me free reusable bags when I signed up with their rewards program. They give me a few dozen dollars off a month in savings, I reward them by doing the bulk of my grocery buying there. We all win still.

Because people will find another use for the reusable containers, then just take as many as you let them.

What works more often is an explicit deposit, or a pay-for-return. I buy cleaning stuff from a local wholesaler who will pay a few dollars for each 20 litre container returned, a little more if it has a tap, and about $10 for a 200 litre drum (which I can also buy cleaned from a second hand drum dealer for $15).

But when you're talking about a 500ml dishwashing detergent bottle there's not enough value in the bottle to make it worth setting up a return and reuse system. If you get down into plastic bags it's complete nonsense, even for single-material (ie, non-food) bags at less than a cent each. In NSW we have a 10c fee per bag to discourage their use and even that is not enough to cover the cost of recovering and downcycling those bags (our downcycling scam just collapsed: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-11-17/recycle-collapse-proo...)

Look at the economics of milk bottle returns, for example. My parents pay ~10c/time to buy milk in glass bottles on top of the ~50c deposit on each bottle. People where they are do that because they intensely dislike plastic bottles and have the spare money to pay extra for milk.

> The reason they do it is because it's still cheaper and more efficient than the alternative. Even at their scale.

That's not the only reason. Consumer convenience can also be a factor why things are done in a certain way.

Status quo bias is also huge, especially since consumers will be more difficult to change than a handful of companies.

Also, new technology, such as cheaper and more accurate sensors, scales, printers, anti-theft tech, etc. may make something more feasible when it might not have been even a few months ago.

Finally, consumer preference and education are also important. Zero waste buying, for example, would require consumers to (a) recognize there is massive waste in their lives, (b) recognize alternative ways are possible, (c) be willing to change to the alternative way, which they might resist even if it's better. For most companies, the cost/risk of this education may not be worth it. But it's possible that there is far greater awareness among consumers about (a) and (b) today than ever before, so the costs are now feasible.

It just does not work equally well with every product, but it works with some.

I keep seeing farmers selling stuff like apples, potatoes, etc on greenmarkets from large reusable plasic or wooden crates. If I bring my own bags, I produce no packaging waste.

It's a bit harder with things like milk, but should be doable using large multi-use cans and pouring into customer's bottle.

Likely packaging waste can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated completely, for things like bread, cookies / crackers / etc, eggs, sausages, butter, etc. Just use large reusable / recyclable containers, and parcel out the amounts needed for a customer.

It of course is not going to work well with stuff that requires special packaging at the point of production, like carbonated drinks.

The biggest problem is the lack if self-service in much if this; a salesperson should measure, weigh, cut or otherwise dispense things, and this is slower than scanning bar codes. Pre-packaged goods even allow self-checkout.

Ironically, we used to literally do it with milk a generation or two ago. You'd get milk in glass bottles, drink it, leave it outside in the evening, bring in more milk in the morning in reused glass bottles, and the bill is in the mail. Today with expensive glass bottled milks, they sometimes still offer a few cents redemption if you return the empty bottles to the store.

Some places have gone back to milk in glass bottles: https://www.oaklandsfarm.co.nz/home-delivery

It's expensive but it's doable. Or you could say that the plastic milk people have successfully externalised enough of their costs that they can charge less than a more efficient option. Somehow producer levies to cover waste disposal are uncommon and wildly unpopular (with producers).

Plenty of stores selling in bulk allow self-service. Customer weights their own container, prints a barcode.

Perhaps a lot. I live in Boulder and a number of wealthy moms in my social group are all into zero waste, or minimizing waste to the point where they will pay $10-15/gallon for milk. It also helps to justify the price that the milk is sourced locally, because these people are usually cognizant of the carbon footprint from shipping as well.

Assuming those wealthy Boulder moms live in detached single family homes with individual cars, I wonder how much additional carbon footprint of that lifestyle is compared to living in an apartment.

I suspect it is orders of magnitude more than local milk in zero waste packaging compared to what you get at Costco.

A lot of Boulder homes are relatively small because they were built in the 40s-60s for a population with much more modest means. So it isn't rare to see millionaires living in a 1300 SQ ft ranch style home, and driving EVs or riding bakfiets style bikes around toting kids.

So, probably still more carbon intensive than city dwellers, but not necessarily as bad as other forms of suburban lifestyles, and that doesn't mean their efforts are for naught.

I am willing to pay a decent markup (2x the cost)

Surely you could make a far greater environment impact by donating $50 to a conservation or carbon credit charity instead of spending $100 on $50 worth of groceries that have less plastic in their supply chain.

The cost of diverting plastic from the waste stream is high, the cost of recovering it once it becomes litter is higher, and the cost of getting it out of the ocean is dollars per kilogramme. And once we have it the best option we have is either melting into lumps of generic plastic to use as weights, or shipping it to Sweden to be burned to generate electricity (only place that does this AFAIK, and I wouldn't trust anyone in the US or Australia if they wanted to).

None of these will reduce the amount of plastic going into the environment. There is no “offsetting” plastic.

I will gladly pour a gallon of milk into a bucket for you $4.00. Tell me when and where.

I need to figure this out sir.

There was an attempt at a zero waste grocery store in east Austin a decade ago called in.gredients. IIRC they eventually pivoted to being a small deli/restaurant and eventually closed. You may be able to Google around to find the founder who probably has some experiences to share. https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/food/2018-04-25/damn-i...

There was also someone recently attempting to build a worker owned co-op: https://vivekmgeorge.medium.com/my-1-lesson-after-eleven-mon...

If it's at all convenient, I would highly recommend joining the Park Slope Food Coop to see the ins and outs of a grocery business at scale. Members are also owners and workers, so you could get a pretty close look at financial statements in addition to seeing how the food comes in from distributors before it gets to the shelf.

Even with a focus on sustainability and use of bulk bins for some products, there's a bunch of waste. I am very skeptical that you could truly get to "zero waste."


I think the number one thing PSFC does to minimize waste is maintain incredible velocity of sales — much of the “free” member labor is used to constantly replenish shelves by cycling goods off trucks, through the basement, back up the belt and out onto the floor. Incredible sales per sq foot and they are ruthless about cutting items that don’t sell. Of course it helps to be in a densely populated area with a large number of members.

Anyway not much rots or spoils on those shelves. Although I sometimes see fruit going bad when shopping but I’m sure the ratio is much better than even most nyc groceries.

I will say given the tight space they tend to buy more packaged produce and potential bulk items than certain other stores in more spacious places (I’m thinking of Monterey Market and Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley where items like strawberries and cherries were almost always in big bins because they bought direct from farmers - psfc probably couldn’t do that due to space constraints and the time it takes for shoppers to bag that stuff).

I've had negative experiences with zero waste stores. The product is often just sitting there for months in those big transparent containers getting oxidized. And there is always sticker shock.

I'm all for reducing waste, but zero waste takes things too far.

Yup. All that waste exists for a reason. I suspect when all is said and done, what seems wasteful is the most efficient.

You can sign up to be on the waitlist while we get set up.

Basically we'll deliver groceries in glass and stainless steel containers and pick them up for reuse once you're done.


Unfortunately, I am not in your zone. What you are doing however is noble and I wish you much success!

Thankyou sir!

"Zero waste" is misleading.

> End the use of plastic in the consumption of food and hygiene products.

How is the food transported without plastic? Cars, trucks, and bicycles all use some form of plastic and emit carbon waste when heating the steal and plastic in their construction.

Is the food sourced from farmers that do not use plastic in their farm equipment or tarps? If so, how does this impact price and yield?

Lol. This is about the level pedantry I guess I should expect on HN. But... yes. It's obviously a bit of an exaggeration. Like zero-emissions vehicles, "zero waste" is a colloquial expression. Vegans probably eat hundreds of small bugs every year—does that mean they're not really vegan?

The point is that it's an effort to approach, as closely as is possible, zero. You'll never reach 0. But you can do a hell of a lot better than status quo.

No, it's not pedantry at all. It just sounds like you are not at all familiar with New York City. Delivery services almost exclusively use e-Bikes(which must be charged) and gas powered scooters. Further in New York City you have always been able to walk a few blocks and pick up your own groceries, stick them in your canvas bag and then put the trash in the city provided recycling bins. This actually was the "status quo" before the endless onslaught of vc-backed food delivery services. It still is the status quo for many. Lastly the city also runs a program called ZeroWaste where you can also bring your foods scraps for composting.[1] There are literally hundreds of ZeroWaste drop off locations which are often located in parks and green markets. You can actually pedal a bike in a dedicated bike lane or take the train to get there.

[1] https://www.grownyc.org/compost

Heh. I lived in NYC for over a decade and used to volunteer with GrowNYC in Brooklyn :)

Beyond that, I'm not sure your point?! The city-run "ZeroWaste" drop off locations certainly produce some waste (heat waste from the vehicles transporting the compost bins, for instance?). My point was: the ZERO is not literally zero. It's "significantly less" than status quo. Even Bea Johnson, of "Zero Waste Home" fame, proudly displays her small jar of waste she collects every year. She's never pretended there's literally no waste in her life.

So you accuse others of pedantry and then go on to make a statement such as:

>"The city-run "ZeroWaste" drop off locations certainly produce some waste (heat waste from the vehicles transporting the waste, for instance?).?"


My point was very clear - you don't need a delivery service to get your groceries with minimal environment impact in a place like NYC. I clearly articulated all the ways that already exist to accomplish that with very little effort and no lifestyle change. If you lived in NYC for a decade then surely you should know this.

Honestly your comments read more like trolling than anything else. Also the constant "heh" and "lol" is very tiresome and not all conducive to a productive discussion.

...Whoa. There's a gross misunderstanding happening somewhere. I apparently haven't articulated myself well here. Let me try to recap:

1. itake criticized the term "Zero Waste" because zero waste things don't literally produce zero waste. I suggested that was a bit pedantic, because it seemed obvious. Nothing produces zero waste. My hunch is maybe you read more into this statement than was there?!

2. You responded suggesting I must be unfamiliar with New York City?! (It's not clear how you arrived at this?!) I understood you to believe that it's fair to criticize the term Zero Waste for not being literally Zero Waste. Then—as I understood it—you suggested that ZeroWaste programs in NY were status quo, and good examples of Zero Waste.

3. I responded explaining that I did live in NY. Was very familiar with GrowNYC. And that even good examples of Zero Waste (GrowNYC programs) still do literally produce waste, and I was therefore confused by your response. Are you arguing that it's pedantic to criticize the term "Zero Waste" for not literally producing no waste or aren't you?!

I wholeheartedly agree with you! I'm not sure where you think I'm being inconsistent or unfair?! The co-opting of "Zero Waste" by marketing departments used to peddle unnecessary nonsense is rather gross.

"zero container waste" would more clearly define their mission. They should not mislead consumers by diluting the term "zero waste".

If another business offers similar services, but using exclusively zero emission vehicles (at a higher cost?), then environmentally conscious consumers will not have correct information to make their purchasing decisions.

Yea, I get your point. I think part of the problem is many people first hear about "Zero Waste" from some corporation marketing their product/service as zero-waste. The term has been in-use environmentalists since the late 90's, and was really popularized by Bea Johnson's book "Zero Waste Home" in the 2000's. It's a bit of a bummer it's been coopted by the likes of Unilever and Proctor and Gamble as a way to green-wash and make money.

I don't think it's pedantry, I think it's misleading to non-technical consumers, the ones that can't easily differentiate a true fact of your product and an aspirational goal.

The damage is that when they find out 'the truth' they're gonna become cynical and jaded, and they'll be forever turned off to the cause that you so dearly care about. You can already see it in the rest of these comments.

> "zero waste" is a colloquial expression.

Zero waste is an industry marketing term that you are masquerading as a colloquial expression.

It's increasingly _become_ adopted as an industry/marketing term. But that's not the history of it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_waste

All I would say is, have you worked out the numbers? Have you surveyed people to determine what they would actually pay and estimated the market size realistically?

Because grocery delivery is extremely hard to make money on already, and then you're targeting a small subset of that market and in a way that will cost much more.

I applaud your enthusiasm and values but I'd hate to see you spend huge amounts of time and money on this and then fail simply because there was never any way to make the numbers work.

I have not figured out how much people want to pay yet; I'm interested in making deliveries and creating a super loyal customer base first, however small. Definitely gotta start thinking about all you've mentioned.

That’s a charity not a business

I've seen implementations of this trend in Switzerland at natural markets - I wouldn't exactly call it "zero waste", but some shops are catering to customers who aspire to be more environmentally conscious. For example, products that keep well, e.g. olive oil, liquid shampoo and conditioner are available in taps, and customers can bring their mason jars or the like. Paper or compostable bags for the produce. Grains / nuts available by weight like in old school co-op groceries.

I don't think zero waste is feasible for the entire product mix, and we can always wonder what's happening higher up in the supply chain, but some customers definitely enjoy dealing with less waste and will prefer to shop in a store that facilitates this.

As I understand it groceries are high volume and low margin and the logistics are nightmarish (getting the wrong stuff at the wrong time, left holding the bag if something goes bad) - whats your plan for dealing with that?

On that note - is reusable containers going to make your endeavor cheaper and easier or more costly? What does a cheap gallon of milk in your area cost vs what you think you'll sell at? Curious if you'll compete on price alone or if your target audience are the people irritated by plastic use and willing to pay on that.

How are you sourcing? Mostly I want to know whether you'll be able to get product that itself isnt coming in disposable packaging.

Neat project, I wish you luck!

For some reason I always see zero waste stores to open with lot of fanfare and then close down after a few months. Even in hip areas, where demand for hipster cafes and vegan restarants seems to be infinite.

Not sure why, thought. Maybe zero waste store is one of those ideas that seem so nice, but don't work at all in reality?

I think they only work in an expensive way. The efficiency of our farm to fridge food economy is based on packaging and transport methods, and those methods are what cause the waste. Many people would love to pay a little more for zero waste, but they experience sticker shock when they see that final price.

Do you have any plans to also handle pickup of compost? The people who want zero-waste might also be interested in composting their odds and ends, but I imagine most NYCers have no place to put compost they generate. You could collect it during each delivery and then sell it to local farmers, who use it to grow the products people buy. Call it "the green circle" or something. Make your logo a green circle with a leaf in it. Diversifies the business model, provides more reason for people to sign up.

Now that I think of it more, this is kind of a fortuitous combo. If you get goods in cardboard, keep the cardboard for composting. Keep the compost outside in a dumpster or bins, keep your goods inside in a building. Pay a kid medium wage to cut up the cardboard and mix the compost bins. When it's ready, sell it as a green alternative to chemical fertilizers.

I composted for years in NYC and the City has many dropoff sites available.


The department of sanitation is expanding composting to the entire city by 2024. https://www.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/site/services/food-scraps-an...

I think a better start would be to not sell any food that is delivered to either you or the customer in plastic packaging.

Just paper, cloth, metal, and glass. I think you'll be able to reach a larger market that way, and if you are delivering then charge a small fee to take back the empty containers to either recycle or reuse.

This seems to not be anything more than a mere idea for now, based on your comments. I don't really see the point of sharing your website at this point, where you're months away of delivering your first products (if you ever do, which I wouldn't bet on).

Best of luck!

How will weights and measures factor in to pricing? Can orders be placed for arbitrary quantities or will there be fixed sizing?

How will you tackle container returns? Amazon fresh used to use high quality insulated bags you were supposed to return on next delivery, but eventually they switched to a cardboard box with some insulated bubble wrap that was all disposable. Not sure why exactly, but I imagine that there's more overhead of logistics and cost for materials. Will the smaller scale make that easier for you to manage?

Short answer is "I don't know" unfortunately. I'm working on figuring all of that out. I would assume there'd be fixed sizing. For the returns, I will collect the containers from the front door or a bin at the front desk and sanitize them at a commercial kitchen and return them to the food producer.

The way I'm interpreting this is "yet another grocery delivery service in NYC, but the differentiator is zero waste". Which is not a great differentiator. Good luck.

Seems like a pretty good differentiator to me. Most products differentiate on speed or cost. Amazon, Uber, and DoorDash are going to crush you on those. I doubt any of them will touch zero waste.

NYC apartment’s lack of square footage is going to make it super inconvenient to store the containers as you await the next delivery and container pickup.

If they went somewhere when they weren't empty they can just sit there until they are picked up and replaced.

Yes I'm your target audience. Already visit zero waste/BYO container stores in NYC.

My concern would be where I'd store all the containers you give me after they're empty. Small apartment (surprise).

Another would be if I break or lose the containers, what the price to replace them would be.

Would the containers be delivered in reusable bags? Paper bags?

Also your prices need to compete with Whole Foods, Instacart, etc. Sounds difficult, I wish you luck.

Word of caution since this is posted the same day this news came out about a similar service here in the Netherlands going bankrupt: https://www.nu.nl/economie/6251507/verpakkingsvrije-supermar...

Zero Grocery in the Bay, which had the same business model, folded last year. There's probably a lot to learn from them. https://sf.eater.com/2022/3/28/23000037/zero-grovery-deliver...

You're going to get a ton of skepticism, but I think it's possible in a dense area to find enough people who have enough overlap in the staples they consume who are willing to pay for this. I would try to focus on quality first, proving that you can get super high customer retention and unit margin, before trying to be cost-competitive with a larger grocer.

This has been a major area of interest for me for YEARS.

I have some really good design ideas. Some questions and thoughts and would like to have a talk with you.

Specifically about mason-jar-meals, delivery methods/opportunitunities and market research I hope you have done on this matter...


(source Kozmo.com and other delivery service tracking, but also product assembly creation thoughts (PM-ing))

I'm not from NYC, I'm from a smaller city in New York. I recently visited Harlem, and I was shocked by the number of delivery drivers zooming around on small motorcycles (scooters).

tongue in cheek: you know your city has reached a high standard of human development when everything is delivered to your apartment by a servant on a motorbike.

Sounds like a good mission with a lot of stuff to do. We can help you with same-day delivery at least on the start. $8 per order (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens), Shopify app for easy integration. Let me know if you are interested (flot.delivery)

Never bet against convenience.

Not in NYC, but I wish you the best of luck. Getting ideas like this tried out and tested is important to proving there is a better way to act as responsible stewards. I hope it succeeds!

We just had one called Pieter Pot in The Netherlands declare bankrupt. Read into their story I would say.

What does "zero waste" even mean? No wasted time or energy? No wasted packaging?

Is it going to be cost competitive? Grocery delivery is already stupidly over-priced.

Really? Around where I live Peapod, for example, is <$10. I don't use it but, if I otherwise liked it, that doesn't seem unreasonable for someone to pick your order and deliver it to you.

Don't know about the US, but I live in a 300K inhabitants city in France, we fetch everything on a bicycle and have heavier items delivered for 10€ which is much cheaper than having our own car, factoring in maintenance, insurance, etc. Might soon get a cargo bicycle to be able to fetch heavier things myself without relying on delivery service.

The delivery charge is not where the cost is - it is the fact that each item is 15-20% higher price.

There's an awesome shop in Ann Arbor called By the Pound that is like this.

On-demand delivery does not sound like zero-waste to me?

A small suggestion for OP. This sounds pretty interesting, but I'm left with many practical questions. Your site should be focused on trying to explain this concept and clarify exactly what you mean by zero waste.

I would assume that a delivery driver isn't going to lug a giant barrel of beans up to some 3rd floor walk up, tell you to hold out your hands, dip a scoop into the barrel, and tell you to say when you've got enough beans, but that's literally how "zero waste" might possibly be interpreted literally.

How does this actually work in practice if I wanted some of dem beans? What do they come wrapped in? Is it safe? How do you handle messy foods?

Hmm, I would give you a stainless steel maison jar of beans of a standard size. Once you're done with the beans, I'll come collect the jar. The same goes for messy foods.

Jars sound like a great idea, but bring up some more practical questions.

When reusing jars, I assume they would have to be washed fairly well. Do you have a fancy industrial strength dishwasher to quickly do this to ensure safety?

And we all know that the best milk comes in jugs, but I'm willing to switch to jars if the environmental impact is favorable, but I have no idea. How does it affect the environment to make a plastic bag/jug versus making and washing a jar? If you can present some hard data that this difference of yours actually is good for the Earth, I think that would help compel people to more strongly consider it.

It's an interesting idea of course, just with many practical details that I'd want to know about before signing up.

Which areas will you deliver to?

All boroughs of Manhattan I suppose?

Try /r/zerowaste

zero waste lol

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