While most Americans have yet to break up with Amazon, many are swiftly getting woke to alternative, and more environmentally sound, ways of acquiring goods.
Tamara Lim, founder of new zero-waste grocery delivery company The Wally Shop, is here to inform Brooklyn residents that deliveries needn’t burden our already ailing environment. Opened four months ago, The Wally Shop is making the zero-waste lifestyle even more attainable for Brooklyn residents.
The e-commerce industry, worth about $350 billion as of 2016, ships around 165 billion packages each year, according to Fast Company. Amazon accounted for about 5 billion of these in 2017 alone. While the retail giant claims to have eliminated nearly a quarter of a million tons of packaging materials from 2007 to 2017, a staggering amount of packing materials still get sent to landfill.
Lim, who used to work for the e-retail giant itself, managing the packaging and shipping retail category, noticed a growing demand from consumers for recycled and sustainable packaging. Because the infrastructure in place for producing post-consumer packaging is so poor, according to Lim, the cost of switching over to these materials is prohibitively expensive. She was shocked by the contradiction.
“Here I was working at this big tech company that’s reaching billions of people and we have this technology and ability to build such amazing technology and solutions, yet we are struggling to clean up after ourselves,” she told Bushwick Daily over the phone.
Though consumers are steadily growing more conscious of sustainable shipping solutions, people like Lim are advocating for a less conservative approach to reducing waste—going entirely waste-free. What this means is that single-use packaging like bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, and styrofoam get tossed (metaphorically) in favor of reusable materials like tote bags and mason jars. The store Precycle, recently opened in Bushwick, is built off this model, as is Williamsburg’s Package Free Shop.
The concept combines the existing model of a zero-waste grocery store like Precycle with uber-popular grocery delivery platforms like FreshDirect and Blue Apron, and is the first zero-waste grocery delivery company in the US.
At The Wally Shop, which operates out of its warehouse in Bushwick, employees shop for each order on the day of delivery. Bulk items like grains, produce, oils and vinegars, and local baked goods get packed at the store before being parceled off into individual tote bags for customers.
Instead of single-use plastic and cardboard packaging, goods are packed into mesh bags and mason jars. Though costs include a $1 deposit for packaging, customers can easily get their deposit returned when they hand the packaging back to the courier upon their next delivery. Orders placed by 2 p.m. are delivered that night between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Even the mode of delivery is waste-free: couriers transport groceries to customers by bike, doing away with the environmental cost of fuel.
Products are sourced entirely from local businesses. On The Wally Shop’s website, items from Bushwick Food Cooperative, Fort Greene Farmers Market, and Union Square Farmers Market are available to order. Precycle, which recently launched on the shop’s website, also provides a number of goods.
Customers pay a bit more than they would at conventional grocery stores for the convenience of package-free delivery. In addition to the $1 deposit for packaging, a 5 percent service fee now and the delivery fee is $7.99 for orders under $35, $5.99 for orders above $35. There is no minimum order requirement, however.
When we spoke, Lim emphasized how critical the feedback from Brooklyn residents has been. When she launched her first ad campaign, she was shocked by the amount of positive feedback she received, and by the number of people who signed up before the platform had even launched. She collected zip codes, and it turned out that almost all of the people were from Brooklyn, and a majority of them from Bushwick. Additionally, most of these customers work in creative fields, and lie between the ages of 24 and 35.
In addition to early feedback, Lim continues to turn to her customer base to determine how to expand the company’s offerings. Instead of arbitrarily adding products, she reaches out to her community of Instagram followers to ask whether they’d be interested in purchasing eggs waste-free, even with a deposit charge of two dollars instead of one.
While Lim originally worried that people wouldn’t warm to the concept of returnable packaging, she’s been hugely encouraged by how well customers have adapted to the idea. She said that people were returning packaging at a rate of 50 percent, and since many of the items sold are bulk dry goods like buckwheat flour, she foresees the rate increasing even further.
The Wally Shop only serves select zip codes in Brooklyn thus far, and is still in its early growth stages. However, Lim plans to expand to Manhattan in spring, and hopes to one day bring the model to cities across the U.S., such as Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Cover photo courtesy of Vic Styles.