sustainability

Zeroing In on Zero Waste: Gaia’s Efforts + 6 Steps You Can Take to Reduce & Reuse at Home

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day this month, we want to share with you one of Gaia Herbs’ many green goals, our Zero Waste 2024 Initiative, as well as some simple steps you can incorporate into your daily life to go green at home.

Why is being green so important to Gaia Herbs? It’s simple: A healthy planet is essential to our business, essential to the supplements we create to help you stay feeling your best. The plants that hold the wisdom we all need to heal rely on clean soil, clean water, and clean air.

When we became a Certified B Corporation, we publicly acknowledged that, as a company, we have accountability to all of our stakeholders, one of those being the environment. We know that we are in the midst of a climate crisis, at a tipping point really, and that businesses’ sustainability efforts truly matter. That’s why we’re working to achieve Zero Waste certification through the TRUE Certification Program by the year 2024! Read on to learn more.

What Is Zero Waste?

Broadly speaking, Zero Waste refers to, as you might have guessed, the elimination of waste—with the overall aim being that no trash is sent to landfills or incinerators or finds its way into our oceans. The world has a BIG waste problem. Case in point, a 2016 report published in partnership by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum predicted there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050.1

Zero Waste principles include the familiar behaviors of reusing and recycling. As a movement, Zero Waste encourages not just individual actions, but the large-scale redesign of production and distribution systems to reduce waste as well. Zero Waste fits into the larger concept of circularity and the circular economy. Circular systems are sustainable, closed-loop systems that minimize or eliminate inputs (aka resources) and the creation of potentially harmful outputs (aka waste).

Going Zero Waste is, of course, beneficial to the environment: Fewer landfills mean less pollution and less methane, a greenhouse gas and a leading cause of climate change. Reusing materials versus relying on single-use products such as paper towels means less deforestation. Composting contributes to healthier soils. And so on. But Zero Waste also has beneficial social and economic impacts—healthier people and communities with fewer expenses.

Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has Zero Waste down pat. Everything is reused or repurposed in some way; each phase of a cycle builds on the last. At Gaia Herbs, we not only respect and care for the environment, we also aim to mimic Nature—in the creation of our herbal supplements, which capture the entire plant profile and contain full spectrum extracts, as well as in the manufacturing systems we use to produce these products.

Gaia's Zero Waste 2024 Initiative

Person recycling plastic bottles

When we became a B Corp in 2018, we began to look more closely at our systems and to create a roadmap for better implementing Nature’s teachings. We set the goal to achieve Zero Waste certification by 2024. To obtain this certification, we must demonstrate that we divert 90 percent or more of our waste from the landfill.

We’ve already made great progress toward our goal. Recently, our fulfillment and logistics team determined a way to recycle our shrink wrap, which was previously sent to the landfill. And our newest facility, built in 2019 and located in Mills River, North Carolina, which we call Gaia North, has increased our recycling infrastructure exponentially.

Currently, Gaia Herbs Director of Sustainability and Social Impact Alison Czeczuga and her team are working to implement Zero Waste programs within all departments at Gaia Herbs. For example, they are working with the operations team to determine ways to increase composting of the organic material created during the herbal extraction process, as well as working with manufacturing, bottling, and fulfillment to enroll Gaia in a take-back program for disposable gloves and masks. Additionally, Gaia Herbs Regional Education Specialist Ashley Walgren successfully completed the TRUE Advisor Certificate Program. TRUE Advisors are considered resident experts at their companies, helping to support and implement Zero Waste programs and lead their facilities through the Zero Waste certification process.

This year is “when the rubber really hits the road,” Alison shares. She hopes that by 2022, these programs are not only in place but working well, so that we can have a year’s worth of data that shows just how much waste—hopefully beyond the required 90 percent mark—we’re keeping out of the landfill for certification in 2024.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but we’re committed to getting there,” she says. “Without setting ambitious goals, we won’t make progress on the changes that need to happen. Companies need to step up and make a commitment, and at least create a starting point for moving operations in a positive direction.”

How You Can Implement Zero Waste at Home

At Gaia Herbs, we hope our supplements reconnect you with Nature; that they remind you Nature can help heal us, but also that we have to help heal Nature. Fortunately, there are simple ways to lessen your impact on the Earth—and have fun, save money, and improve your health and communities in the process.

Here are our tips for living a Zero Waste life:

Reusable shopping bag with veggies

  1. At the store: When shopping for groceries, bring a reusable shopping bag; buy in bulk and bring your own Mason jars or cloth bags for these items; use cloth bags, or no bags at all, to bundle your veggies; and purchase products that are not already wrapped in plastic.
  2. In your kitchen: Use beeswax food wraps to wrap leftovers and glass containers for food storage; swap paper towels for cloth napkins and cloth dishrags for cleaning; compost your food scraps; and seek out compostable sponges, which can be microwaved briefly to kill bacteria.
  3. In your bathroom: Try naturally biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes; seek out self-care products, such as shampoo bars, in compostable packaging that does not create waste—or make your own products; and use reusable cotton pads in place of cotton balls.
  4. Around the house: Create DIY cleaning products and detergents and store in glass containers; use washable cloth rags or compostable sponges instead of paper towels.
  5. On the go: Stock your car or backpack with reusable cloth bags, glass food storage containers to transport leftovers from dining out, a reusable water bottle and coffee mug, a cloth napkin, and reusable cutlery.
  6. In your community: Recycle items with TerraCycle or participate in Hard 2 Recycle events, which help divert items like electronics and batteries from the landfill that often can’t be picked up by recycling services or taken to local collection sites. If your community doesn’t have one of these events, consider creating one yourself. Near our headquarters in Western North Carolina, such events are organized by Asheville GreenWorks. The group Moving to Conservers also hosts a sharing club and spearheads other opportunities to get involved in Zero Waste.

Wonder if you can make a difference as an individual?

Though many environmental statistics are alarming, there are plenty of positive stats to consider, too. On average, over the course of a year: 2

  • 1 reusable water bottle replaces 167 plastic water bottles
  • 1 reusable bag eliminates 170 plastic bags
  • 1 reusable coffee mug takes the place of 500 disposable coffee cups

In the words of the Zero Waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau: “We don’t need a handful of people doing Zero Waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

We hope you’ll try going green with Zero Waste principles this month and all year long.

Learn more about our sustainability efforts here. And stay tuned for our 2020 Sustainability Report, publishing soon.

RESOURCES:

1. "The New Plastics Economy," World Economic Forum, January 2016, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf.

2. Green Dream Foundation, “7 Single-Use Swaps” (infographic), Facebook, January 28, 2019, https://www.facebook.com/greendreamfoundation/photos/a.313072185506/10161239068315507/?type=3.