Plastic Free July

Founded in 2011 by the Plastic Free Foundation, Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and more beautiful communities.  Since its inception, this movement has inspired 100+ million participants in 190 countries to engage in transformative change. Of course, it’s not just single-use plastic; it’s single-use itself that is driving the problem, so we encourage you to think beyond plastics to any single-use item that can be replaced with a reusable item to shift our society from a throw-away economy to one that truly embraces and supports circularity.

Here’s a great video from Upstream on the Reuse Movement that serves as an inspiring primer:



Taking Action

The EPA recently released a Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution—part of a series of EPA plans centered around “building a circular economy for all.” It’s encouraging to see such movement at the federal level, and there are several worthy elements in this draft strategy. However, there is also room for improvement, especially when it comes to emphasizing reuse as a solution to plastic pollution. This Plastic Free July, we have a huge opportunity to make our voices heard by the EPA and bring home the message that it’s not just single-use plastic, it’s single-use itself that’s driving our throw-away economy. With this in mind, we encourage you to submit your comments to the EPA by July 31st. Need help crafting effective comments? Upstream Solutions has published an outline on its website, which provides a helpful guide.

We also love this roundup from Reuse Solutions Network, which provides some ideas to help you not only go plastic-free but engage in the ultimate solution to plastic pollution—reuse.

Reuse Opportunities at the Co-op

Here at the Co-op, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to reduce and eliminate packaging waste and dedicated our Spring 2019 issue of our Under the Sun Newsletter to the topic of reuse, complete with a handy centerfold map highlighting the ways to participate in systems of reuse at the co-op:

We’re grateful to work with a long list of local farmers and producers who share our values around reducing waste and promoting reuse. The local farmers and producers enjoy being able to reuse items like apple crates, 5-gallon buckets, milk bottles, large mesh veggie bags, and delivery boxes in a circular system by which they deliver items to us in these vessels, we transfer the items from their delivery vessels to our shelves, then we place the empty vessels in our storage areas so that the farmers can retrieve them to use again and again. This video on our Co-op Instagram page illustrates how this works. 

One great example is our partnership with Hillsboro Sugarworks and Singing Cedars Apiaries to create a waste-free circular system of reuse for our bulk maple syrup and honey. These local producers deliver the syrup and honey in 5-gallon buckets, we use those buckets to fill our bulk tanks (from which you can fill up your jar when you shop), and we return the empty buckets to the folks at Hillsboro Sugarworks and Singing Cedars Apiaries to be sterilized and refilled over and over again. Here’s a video clip that talks more about this wonderful circular system of reuse.


We’re proud to offer hundreds of items in bulk bins throughout the store so that you can bring your own containers from home and fill them with the items you need without the packaging. You’ll find bins of grains, flours, granola, vinegars, culinary oils, nuts, nut butters, and so much more in our Bulk department.

Around the corner, you’ll find our bulk coffee section, and in the next aisle, you’ll find a wide selection of bulk jars of teas and spices, along with a new section of gravity bins containing a wide variety of dried fruits.

Venture across the center aisle to our recently re-vamped Bulk Body Care section, where you can bring your own container to fill up on all of your favorite body care essentials from shampoo and conditioner to liquid soap and lotion. You’ll also find lots of refill jars containing items that are perfect for crafting your own DIY body care products, complete with recipes to help get the creativity flowing. 

In our snack aisles, you’ll find gravity bins of popular snack items like flavored nut mixes, wild rice sticks, and sesame sticks, and around the corner in the candy aisle, you’ll find plenty of bulk sweet treats ready to dispense into your own containers. A few steps further into the cheese department you’ll find local bulk feta from our friends at Maplebrook Farm and bulk chevre from Blue Ledge Farm. You’ll also find an olive bar, where you can bring your own container to fill up on all your favorites!

While the Vermont State Department of Health will not allow shoppers to bring their own containers from home to buy prepared foods from our salad bar, we were excited to find a workaround. This is our antidote to the ubiquitous single-use take-out container. We offer reusable dishes for folks who dine in-house, but we also recognize that there are times when it makes more sense to take your meal to-go. Thanks to the Lunch to Go and Back Again program, you can take your lunch to-go without the need for disposable containers! Simply pick up one of our reusable to-go containers located at our salad bar, fill it with your favorite salad bar items, then take it to the register. The cashier will charge you a $5 container deposit, which will be refunded to you when you return the rinsed container. Our staff will wash and sanitize it, then return it to the stack to be used over and over again!

Our Lunch to Go and Back Again program allows you to take your food to-go in a reusable container!


On your way out of the store, don’t forget to drop off your can carriers! We’re a proud participant in the Vermont Can Carrier Reuse Program, which in its first year is on track to divert 100,000 plastic PakTech craft beer/soda can carriers from the waste stream, brilliantly having them picked up by craft beer distributors like Vermont Beer Shepherd during their normal rounds of beer deliveries then returning them to craft breweries for reuse. 

Deposit can carriers in this crate on your way out of the Co-op
Your can carriers will be picked up by distributor Vermont Beer Shepherd, who will then return them to local breweries for reuse!




We’re excited by these reuse systems at the Co-op and we recognize that there’s always more that we can do. With this in mind, feel free to share your ideas with us for ways that we can continue to improve the reuse systems at the Co-op! We also invite you to be part of Plastic Free July by clicking this link and signing up for the challenge. Their site is also full of helpful resources and ideas to keep you on the circular path!

And if you’d like to commit to joining a workplace of individuals who share your passion for circularity, we’re hiring! Click here to learn more about joining our team!


Embracing Circularity

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s official body for the assessment of climate change, spells it out quite clearly: humans are unequivocally increasing greenhouse gas emissions to record levels that are inconsistent with a future on this planet, AND we have the tools to turn it around if we act swiftly across all sectors. To keep warming within 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, global greenhouse gas emissions must decline by around 21% by 2030 and around 35% by 2035. The greatest opportunity for impact comes when we embrace systems change at the highest levels, and to embrace effective systems change, we must stop thinking linearly and start thinking in terms of circularity. So what exactly does that mean? What makes circularity different from sustainability? Isn’t circularity just recycling? How do we know if we’re succeeding? To take a deep dive into answering these important questions, we would love to share a guest blog post penned by Circularity Analyst Kori Goldberg. This post first appeared in the February 10th edition of the Green Biz Circularity Weekly Newsletter and has been shared with the author’s permission:

Question 1: How is circularity different from sustainability?

If you’ve ever taken a sustainability course, you likely have come across the following definition, from the 1987 United Nations Brundtland Commission: Sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability generally strives to reduce impacts on people and the planet as compared to the status quo — say a baseline of previous operations or the industry standard. The ambition for sustainability has grown since 1987, but in too many cases, sustainability is still seen as “doing less bad.” As Joel Makower puts it, “There’s little honor in ravaging the planet incrementally less.”

The circular economy is a systems approach that answers one “how” in our quest for sustainability. For simplicity, the circular economy is often described through a juxtaposition with the traditional “take-make-waste” system we are all familiar with, the linear economy. Unlike a linear system in which raw materials are extracted, transformed into products and then turned into waste with little regard to environmental, social and even economic externalities, a circular model aims to keep materials in the system at their highest value for as long as possible.

Sustainability is often considered an addition to an entity’s collective practices to improve the whole. Circularity, in contrast, must sit at the core of operations, aiming for profitability while simultaneously addressing global issues such as pollution, nature and biodiversity loss and climate change. Given the pervasiveness of linear economic models, circularity often requires a rebuilding of systems, business models and operations from the ground up. As a prominent thought leader in circularity, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation organizes the circular economy under three design-driven principles:

  1. Eliminate waste and pollution
  2. Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  3. Regenerate nature

The success of the circular economy at a systemic level depends on other global shifts: namely, the transition to renewable energy and a steady supply of responsibly sourced renewable material.

In summary: Circularity has a specific focus on the cycling of resources, lessening both our material use and waste to support a healthy planet. Sustainability deals in broader and more general efforts to reduce social, environmental and economic impact across an entity’s operations.

Question 2: Is circularity just recycling?

Given that circularity is all about keeping materials in use, at their highest value, for as long as possible, it’s natural to wonder if this just means recycling. And while this isn’t necessarily the wrong way to think about it, there’s some nuance here to be parsed out.

Circularity is, in fact, all about cycling materials repeatedly — so in this sense, recycling. This is in contrast to the way in which this term is more often used: to describe the industrial process of turning waste into new products. The latter type of recycling — for example, collecting plastic packaging and mechanically sorting, shredding, washing and reprocessing this plastic into new packaging — is actually one of the lower-priority strategies in the circular economy model.

Let’s back up a bit.

Integral to the circular economy are feedback loops, whereby products and materials are recirculated through the system. In nature, feedback loops nourish and add value to ecosystems. Take a tree that drops its leaves in the fall. These leaves decompose, feeding microbes and returning nutrients to the soil where they’ll be reabsorbed by another plant in search of nutrients.

In the biological cycle, renewable materials such as agricultural waste are recycled through the system through processes such as composting or anaerobic digestion. In the technical cycle, reuse, repair and recycling allow non-biodegradable materials to recirculate through the economy. This is demonstrated through the so-called “Butterfly Diagram,” seen below.

Photo Credit: The Butterfly Diagram. Image from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Designing our economic system with robust feedback loops to mimic nature is revolutionary; since the industrial revolution, we have built a system that forces nature to fit our economy rather than fitting our economy into nature.

Strategies such as increasing the durability of products, new business models that offer sharing, reusing, refurbishing and remanufacturing should be higher-priority strategies than recycling for many industries — from fashion to packaging to electronics.

There is a misconception that the circular economy is just a form of waste management or materials recovery. In reality, it is a model for a flourishing economy that minimizes waste as a natural byproduct of its inherent design of feedback loops that restore technical materials and regenerate biological materials.

Question 3: Degrowth and reduced consumption are tenets of the circular economy. How do we measure success?

As this is the hardest question to answer, I’ll respond with yet more questions. Is growth always good? Is growth the best thing to measure?

The success of global and regional economies have historically been measured by one single indicator, gross domestic product (GDP). But if current and future generations are to thrive within planetary boundaries, we must reimagine how we define progress and opportunity. This is the underlying rationale for the development of “doughnut economics,” a visual model for sustainable growth.

By DoughnutEconomics – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


The model resembles a doughnut where the doughnut ring itself represents a safe and just space for humans to exist within. Inside the ring (the doughnut hole) represents a situation in which people lack essential social necessities such as healthcare, education and political voice. Meanwhile, the outside of the doughnut (the crust) represents ecological boundaries beyond which earth’s natural systems are under threat. This model provides a revolutionary way to understand prosperity and set goals for humanity. According to this model, prosperity can be achieved when we are situated in the middle ring, neither overshooting planetary boundaries nor lacking the necessary social foundations for all people. As Kate Raworth, founder of Doughnut Economics, has said, “A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow.”

I hope this essay helps you pause and remember the bigger picture. As you orient yourself in your role towards the larger, systemic goals we are collectively trying to achieve, take heart that you’re part of an exciting, growing community working to do the same.

Interested in learning more about the circular economy? Subscribe to the free Circularity Weekly newsletter and be sure to sign up for our April 19th Co-op Class on Zero Waste Strategies with Ben Kogan of Reusable Solutions! We’re looking forward to this empowering conversation where we’ll explore opportunities to reduce our personal impact on this planetary problem, highlighting circular systems of reuse.