Closing the loop with Club Zero

Return. Refill. Repeat. That’s the mantra of a circular economy and the mission of Club Zero. To tackle the problems posed by single-use packaging, we’ve launched a new, sustainable way to shop for refillable, store cupboard staples. You’ll find pantry favourites like organic pulses, grains, pasta, nuts and even chocolate buttons.

Here to tell you more about Club Zero, how we made it happen, and why the road to packaging-free isn’t always trouble-free, is our Head of Sustainability, Stef.


Meet Steff

Hello Stef! Why is the topic of packaging so important right now?

Over the past few years, there’s been a rising tide of awareness about plastic and single-use plastic pollution in our environment. Any material requires a resource to make it, and once single-use packaging has served its purpose, it immediately comes to the end of its life. Not only that, but it often ends up in our environment, scattered across beaches or polluting the oceans, and has a profound impact on the health of the world we all live in. But we can do something about this. A circular economy is a model that can offer us a sustainable solution. In this model, materials are designed to be kept in circulation, being reused and repurposed time and again before they finally reach their ‘end of life’. It’s the same approach that we take with our cardboard boxes, collecting and then reusing them each week. In this way, we’re harnessing the planet’s resources over and over, instead of wasting them unnecessarily in one single-use.

Can you tell us what inspired Abel & Cole to start Club Zero?

Sustainability has always been at the top of our agenda – cutting back on plastic and finding innovative ways to reuse our packaging are a key part of this.

We knew that we wanted to pioneer a refillable service in a home delivery model, and from this idea, Club Zero was born. It’s been fantastic to see the popularity of zero waste shops gain momentum over the last couple of years. To bring Club Zero to life, we worked with Catherine Conway, Director of Unpackaged, a refill and reuse consultancy based in London, to map out how something similar might look for us. Catherine has been at the forefront of developing sustainable packaging solutions and zero waste retail models for 15 years, so was the best person for the job. Ultimately, we wanted to do away with single-use packaging for good, but we knew that we needed to first find a way to make shopping like this simple and convenient for everyone.

Is Club Zero an overnight solution to combatting single-use plastic?

It’s a long journey, but a really great step in the right direction. To get things up and running, we had to choose the best material for the job. It may surprise you to learn that this is, in fact, plastic. We needed to find a solution that was incredibly durable, and which could be reused again and again. During trials, we’ve washed the pots up to 125 times with no wear and tear on them, so we know that we can wash and refill them indefinitely!

Return. Refill. Repeat.

Did you encounter any unexpected challenges along the way?

An interesting challenge was that whilst we needed the VIPs (Very Important Pots) to be functional, lightweight and robust, they couldn’t look too attractive, or we might be tempted to keep them at home, rather than in circulation. 

Then, it turns out that washing and drying plastic pots on a commercial scale is more complicated than you’d think! The porosity of the polypropylene means that they don’t retain heat as well as say glass or ceramics, and so don’t dry as easily. We’ve had to create a special drying room with sufficient ventilation and warm air in order to be able to dry them in good time.

We also had to delay the launch itself due to the lockdowns last year. But we were hard at work behind-the-scenes throughout, initially running much smaller trials in 2020, to get us to the place where we can now open up Club Zero to everyone.

Can you let us in on any plans for the future of Club Zero?

This year, we want to expand the offering beyond the initial line-up of essentials. We’d like to introduce a number of other ambient goods, like coffee and sugar, for even more variety. Our thanks to Stef for a whistle-stop tour of the Club Zero journey so far. 

Published January 2021

Cutting back on plastic this year? Join our mission to combat single-use packaging by becoming a Club Zero Hero, here.

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