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How to start a Zero Waste / Refill store in the USA 🇺🇸

Posted by Rishi Gupta on
How to start a Zero Waste / Refill store in the USA 🇺🇸

Thinking about setting up a zero-waste store? Then read this first.

If you’re thinking of starting a zero-waste store knowing where to start can feel pretty daunting. With lots to consider you might be wondering what you should give your attention to first. But never fear, we’re going to share some wisdom and advice on some of the things you’ll need to consider if you’re thinking about setting up your own package-free shop.

Before we start it’s worth mentioning that starting any business isn’t always easy. It takes time, effort, and lots of determination. Things don’t always go right and in the early days, it might feel like you eat, breathe and sleep your business. But take it from us, the end result makes it all worthwhile and the rewards will far outweigh any of the initial hard work.


⚡️ Decide how and what you’re selling ⚡️

Before we dive in, you’ll first need to decide how you’re going to sell your zero-waste products: will you be selling them online via a website, or will you set up a physical store? Perhaps you’ll combine the two, having both a physical and online presence. This is also a good time to think about what you want to sell: you might want to focus on food, you might want to sell beauty products or you might want to stock a bit of everything. Once you’ve got this down you can then move on to the fun bits, such as finding like-minded suppliers and deciding what amazing products you’re going to stock. But more on that later, first let's look at how to set up a zero-waste store online.


💻 Setting up a zero-waste store online 💻

Creating your own website might seem a little scary especially if you’re not the most tech-savvy person out there but rest assured you don’t need to be a software expert to create a slick, easy-to-navigate website - we certainly weren’t! There are loads of great website builders that are easy to use and come with detailed instructions and support to help you get started. Shopify and Squarespace are two such examples; both have lots of different plans and templates to choose from so it’s simply a case of looking around and finding the right one for you.


🥑 Selling food supplies online 🥑

Before you start, make sure you familiarise yourself with both the national and state laws and regulations around selling and handling food. These laws differ from state to state and you might need to obtain permits, licenses, or undertake training before you can sell any food. If you’re planning on making and selling food items on a smaller scale it’s also worth reading up on your state's Cottage Law as in some cases you won’t need to operate from a licensed kitchen. This article on the FDA’s website also has some useful insights into setting up a food business and has a good overview of any requirements you will need to meet before you get started.

Once you’re ready to go your next step will be to find food suppliers whose mission and ethos align with what you’re trying to achieve. This one might take a bit of research on your part in order to find wholesalers whose products you really like and want to stock. If you’re not sure where to start Azure Standard, Hummingbird Wholesale and Sun and Swell Foods sell sustainable, bulk, zero-waste food supplies wholesale. Life Without Plastic and Rosetto have a huge range of food storage containers and dispensers, which are especially important if you’re planning on starting a refillable zero-waste store.


🌱 Selling zero waste products online 🌱

If you’re not selling food items then there are lots of great zero waste and sustainable products that you can sell instead. The below list should give you some inspiration to the type of products that are popular amongst shoppers. Don’t forget you can also set up a wholesale account with Zero Waste Club to order these products quickly and easily. If you would like to learn more about our wholesale ordering process, you can do that here. 


📦 Packing and shipping your items 📦

When you’re ready to ship your items you’ll need to find eco-friendly products to pack your items. Opt for products such as:

Pay extra attention to how you pack your items making sure they are packed securely and tightly without damaging the items. A correctly packaged item will reduce excess packing waste and lower the shipping cost of your item. You should also encourage your customers to reuse your packaging or perhaps look at a zero-waste returns process should they need to return any items to you. When it comes to shipping there are lots of different handlers out there who are doing their bit for sustainability - you can find some great options here


🛒 Setting up a physical store 🛒

When it comes to setting up a physical zero-waste store you can follow many of the guidelines above, particularly when it comes to the items you stock. Having a good selection of high-quality, useful stock will ensure customers return to your store time and time again. Zero waste alternatives for kitchen, bathroom, travel and beauty products are popular so make sure your store has a good selection of items for each category. Want to see how we do it? Then check out our products here:

If you need more inspiration then this video by Simply By Christine has some great tips and pointers to help you get started.


🤔 Things to consider 🤔

With a physical space you’ll also need to think about the following things:

  • Think carefully about your location - ideally, your store should be in an area with lots of footfall to increase traffic to your store. Find out what competition is in the area and if there is a demand for a zero-waste store.

  • Decide how you will take payments - It’s a good idea to take both cash and card payments to give your customers lots of options. Check out this list of card processing companies that support small businesses.

  • Get the right insurance - you’ll need to make sure you have general liability insurance and commercial property insurance before you open your store. Most states will also require workers' compensation insurance so you will need to arrange this before you hire any staff.

  • Get the right equipment - Depending on what sort of store you’re setting up - whether you’ll be selling food, refills, or products - make sure you have the right equipment to store and show off your wares. 

  • Find good staff - Having a good staff you can rely on will make all the difference to the smooth running of your store. Job boards and Linkedin are great ways to find honest, reliable staff.


📣 Spreading the word 📣

When your zero-waste store is ready to go it’s time to start spreading the word; you don’t have to invest in expensive marketing campaigns but do make sure you have a good online social presence including  Facebook and Instagram pages, a website, a Twitter account, and a Linkedin profile. You can also find great freelance professionals for varying prices on sites like Fiverr and Upwork who can help with anything from website creation to copywriting to logo design.

Take the time to find and connect with similar like-minded businesses in the area with who you can collaborate; this is a great way to network and raise your profile while helping to support your local community and fellow small business owners. You should also create a ‘Google my business’ listing on Google. This will increase your visibility and make sure you appear on local maps and in local searches. You can learn how to do this here.


💭 Final thoughts 💭

This is by no means a comprehensive list but it’s a good place to start if you’re ready to take the plunge and start selling zero-waste products. Getting your package free shop off the ground won’t be easy and there are lots of things to consider before you start. The chances are you won’t get it right every time but take any setbacks as a learning curve and don’t be too defeated if things don’t always go to plan. If you have a clear vision and surround yourself with like-minded, hardworking individuals there’s no reason why you shouldn’t achieve something really great that benefits you, your community, and the planet.


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  • Alana on

    Hi, thanks for the blog post. Which Google Business Profile Category should I choose for my zero waste shop? Thanks

  • Brittny on

    Very helpful, thanks

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