We Cleaned Up Our Act With a 30-Day Zero-Waste Challenge

Last Update: December 6, 2022

At Thrive Market, we have big plans to become a zero-waste company. We’re proud of the work accomplished so far—especially in our supply chain and our fulfillment centers—but there’s a lot more we can do! To double down on our recycling efforts, we hosted a 30-day challenge at our corporate offices in Los Angeles.

It all started on Earth Day, which was a great time to foster some healthy competition among our offices. Both fulfillment centers have well-established zero-waste programs in place, so it was corporate’s turn to take the plunge. Here’s how we cleaned up our act.

Goals of the Zero-Waste Challenge

Before we could kick-start all the recycling fun, we outlined our goals for the month:

  1. Increase recycling and reduce confusion about what should be recycled, thrown out, or composted
  2. Find a composting partner and develop an onsite composting program
  3. Find a prepared-food donation partner

Next up? Figuring out how we’d accomplish it. At a weekly staff meeting, Director of Sustainability, Ashley White, gave us an overview of what we’re up against. “We’re all pretty familiar with recycling, but it’s not something we go back and review,” she said. “The recycling industry has come a long way and items we used to think of as not being recyclable, now are. It’s a matter of reeducating and resetting habits.”

Obstacles and Opportunities

Next, Ashley broke down the basics of our new program, and shared some shocking statistics, too.

Why We Need to Recycle

Here are just a few reasons why every can and carton matters.

  • Plastic is forever! Every piece of plastic you’ve ever used is still on the planet today.
  • Enough office paper is thrown away each year to build a wall 12-feet high, stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.
  • Cardboard and paper waste make up 41% of the municipal solid waste stream.

Good News for the Planet

The situation sounds dire, but there’s reason to be optimistic!

  • Aluminum can be recycled and back on a store shelf in less than 60 days.
  • Recycling cardboard takes 24% less energy than making it from raw materials, and plastic takes 88% less.
  • Glass can be recycled endlessly without a loss in quality or purity.
  • By using reusable drink containers, an average person eliminates the need for 100 disposable bottles per year.
  • Glass takes 1 million years to degrade in a landfill.

Can I Recycle This?

Before we could start making progress, we had to figure out what to recycle and what to toss. That’s when Ashley broke it down like our cardboard boxes.

“When in doubt, throw it out!”

Here’s a motto to memorize: When in doubt, throw it out! “It’s counterintuitive because we all want to recycle as much as possible, so when we’re unsure if an item can be recycled, we’ll most likely throw it in the recycle bin in hopes it can be,” she said. But here’s the problem. “Items that can’t be recycled are seen as contaminants, and if too many contaminants are found in a recycle bin, the whole bin will be sent to trash. It’s better to have the one item end up in a landfill than a whole bin.”

What you CAN recycle?

  • Glass
  • Metal and cans
  • Plastics #1 – #7
  • Cardboard
  • Beverage cartons
  • Mixed paper
  • Plastic bags

What you CAN’T recycle

  • Food plastics and wrappers
  • Bubble wrap
  • Diapers
  • Styrofoam
  • Fast food containers
  • Coffee cups
  • Food scraps
  • Used napkins

The Results

Drumroll, please … Did we manage to stop throwing avocado pits into the recycling bin? The short answer is yes! Recycling is at an all-time high at Thrive Market HQ, and we’ve also reduced our contaminants, engaged our awesome cleaning crew, and reduced the frequency of our trash pickups. Here are a few other updates to share:

  • Waste has been cut by 63%.
  • Recycling volume is down 33%
  • Overall waste reduction of 57% in one month
  • Waste and costs both reduced

Zero Waste Challenge

Giving Life to Leftovers

One of our company perks is enjoying a catered lunch every day. We feed over 150 of our employees with healthy and organic food that addresses a range of diets. Our goal is to have the right quantities of food on a daily basis without having large amounts of leftovers.

To keep us on track, we partnered with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a national non-profit food rescue organization working to become a leader in food waste solutions by rescuing and donating leftovers to homeless shelters. In Los Angeles County, it provides to local shelters such as New Directions for Veterans, Safe Place for Youth, and Bible Tabernacle. In May, we donated 226 pounds of food, and in June we donated 249 pounds!

Looking Ahead

What’s next for Thrive Market? Our goal is to have every facility receive stand-alone certifications for Zero Waste, which means 90% of items used in that building don’t go to a landfill. Once those certifications are in place, we’ll evaluate the opportunity to achieve the Zero Waste to Landfill designation (100% diversion).

Thrive Market is also committed to the food waste pyramid. “At the very top of that pyramid is the commitment to feeding people, which is also part of our mission,” Ashley shared. “With that in mind, we’ve established food donation programs in every facility to ensure any items that can feed people are donated rather than tossed out.” Finally, our HQ office is working to establish an official composting program.

Do It at Home

The office isn’t the only place to focus your recycling efforts. Get your family on board with these simple tips!

Eat leftovers

Generating less waste starts with using up the food you have. Make leftovers part of your routine, either by packing next-day lunches, or a leftover-inspired dinner during the week, where you can use up all your odds and ends.

Invest in reusable packaging

You can help keep plastic out of landfills by stocking up on reusable bags and packaging for all your kitchen needs. Food storage bags come in a variety of shapes, perfect for snacks on the go, lunch sandwiches, and dried nuts and fruit.

Make friends with the trash man

According to Ashley, your waste hauler is your best partner. “They want to recycle as much material as possible and have extensive resources to help you understand what their capabilities are so nothing is left behind,” she said. “The landscape of recycling is constantly changing. I recommend checking out your waste hauler’s website to see what services they provide and the items they accept. I guarantee you’ll be surprised!”

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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