How to Address Businesses about Their Packaging
June 26, 2018 | Kathryn Kellogg
Last Updated on April 9, 2020
I’ve said it a hundred times, going zero waste in your personal life is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to make lasting change, we need all pieces of the puzzle moving. This includes groups, organizations, businesses and politicians.
I’ve already written posts on finding your local zero waste community and getting involved in local government. 99% of my entire blog is based on individual action so I have that part covered too. 😉
The key piece I’m missing is businesses! Now, this post isn’t for business owners, it’s how you can help influence and shape business practices as an individual.
One of the arguments I hear against living a zero waste lifestyle, is that individual responsibility is a lie. That corporations do the majority of the polluting and it is their job to clean it up.
While I agree that corporations do share some of the blame, I think it is everyone’s responsibility.
The individual buys the products, the companies make them disregarding natural resources, and our politicians let it all happen.
No one is blameless here, but it’s important to remember that citizens must act so policy and businesses can react!
Businesses take cues from, us, the shoppers. We are the demand! We get to demand change, and that happens in a few ways.
- voting with our dollars
I challenge you to write three businesses about their practices this month.
I think one of the best (and easiest!) places to start is with straws.
Straws are a super hot topic right now. Cities are banning them left and right. (Just to be clear when we say straw “bans” it means straws on request only. Restaurants are ban from putting them in drinks automatically and offering them to tables.)
Straw bans cut down on a significant amount of waste and can save the restaurant some $$$. I have composed a sample letter for you to use as a guide.
I hope you’re doing well. Diner Town is one of my favorite places to grab lunch; the pecan pie is my absolute fave! During my last visit, I couldn’t help but notice that straws are automatically placed in all of the drinks.
Straws and single-use plastic in general have been getting a lot of media attention. France has done away with single-use plastic cups and cutlery so has Seattle. Even McDonald’s is looking for plastic straw alternatives.
Straws may seem small, but it adds up. In the US alone, we use 500 million plastic straws everyday!
Currently, 8 million tons of plastic winds up in the ocean each year. Most of that is single-use plastic which is responsible for killing over a 100,000 marine animals annually.
I would like to ask that Diner Town, adopt a straw on request only policy. This means that straws aren’t automatically put into drinks or advertised. Instead, they are only handed out when a customer specifically asks for one.
This will significantly decrease the amount of straws you go through having a positive affect on the environment and the bottom line.
I really hope you’ll take my request under consideration. thank you!
Writing letters seems pretty intimidating, but I promise – it’s easier than you think and it gets easier with time!
1. Tell the company why you like them:
Do they have the best pecan pie? Is this a special place to you? Let them know. Companies receive a lot of angry emails. Very rarely do the receive positive ones.
Most people only go out of their way to write if they’re angry. Sending a positive letter will mean they’re more likely to listen and be receptive to your message.
2. Use facts and show that they will be in good company:
Let them know about the problem. Awareness and education are still THE NUMBER ONE hurdle the zero waste, plastic free movement is facing. A lot of people still don’t know this is a problem.
By presenting the problem and showing them how other people are working towards a remedy, you’re showing they are not alone, and that what you’re suggesting could be popular. (Maybe even a selling point??? Nielson found that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands!)
3. Make the ask obvious:
Have you ever received an email without a request or a question? Often you just read it, and wonder “How should I respond?”
Make sure you answer the questions, “What do I want?” “What’s in it for them?” clearly. This will avoid confusion, and there will be a greater chance of you getting a response.
4. Keep it short:
How many long emails have you read all the way through? I’m guessing you skim the majority of them. I know when I open up my inbox to a wall of text… I tend to skip to the next email.
So keep it short and sweet!
5. Follow up:
Follow up two times and only two times. Give it around a week in between each follow up if you haven’t head back. After the second time, if you still haven’t heard back they’re probably ignoring you which is really annoying!
1. Don’t get angry:
Don’t get upset and super angry. They’ll be immediately turned off and won’t want to help you. I believe the old saying goes “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
other letter ideas:
Of course, you can take these principles and use them to contact any company about anything. Maybe you have a favorite face cream that comes in a plastic squeeze tube, and you’d like to see that change.
Using all of the same principles, craft a letter letting them know how you’d like for them to change. Instead of a plastic bottle, maybe they could use a metal squeeze tube which is recyclable or package in glass. Maybe they could initiate a take back program!
Brand’s aren’t mind readers. We have to show them what we want. We can prove customer interest and that starts with you!
voting with your dollars:
I don’t like to threaten companies in my letters. I don’t like to say, “DO this or I won’t be buying ever again!” because when does bullying ever work?
But, voting with your dollars is an important part of the process.
When you buy sustainable products, you’re signaling to brands, “Sustainability is desirable!” You’re letting them know they should make more sustainable products.
But, you should know almost no purchase you make is gong to be perfect. Head over to this blog post to figure out how to make the best choice for the environment.
Every purchase has an impact on the environment, the person who made it, you, your home, and finally when you’re through with it.
It’s pretty amazing to think about the process something has to go through before it gets to you. If you’re interested in the life cycle of products make sure to check out this post, What is Zero Waste, What is the Circular economy?
So, try to vote with your dollars, when you can, for a sustainable future.
And, last but not least, there’s public outcry. Sometimes, companies are tone deaf. Sometimes they don’t care or they’re just really, really, really bad at communication.
It takes a large group of people using their voices to condemn their practices. So many people reached out to Old Navy after this video came out about them destroying their clothes instead of donating.
Sometimes, it takes a village to create change. Sometimes, it takes a village and an army.
There are a lot of ways to get involved, but it does take a little bit of action. Try writing a couple of letters this week.
Once you get the hang of it, you can reuse the scripts and plug in different information. You can use mine for straws! Just change it to reflect your own personal anecdotes.
It’s easy to feel helpless as one person, but we wouldn’t be seeing any of these awesome changes and policy being enacted if it weren’t for you!
Thank you! Writing these kind of letters has been on my list for a while now, so this is the push that I needed. Which type of mailing do you think is better, snail mail (will it even get opened?) or email (zero waste, but will it stay in their junk folder?). I plan on writing letters myself and also having my kids write some (keep up their handwriting skills over summer break!) Thanks for all the information you’re putting out there, your website has really helped and inspired me!
Hi Susan, sorry that wasn’t clear. Definitely email!
YES, I think there’s so much pressure put on individuals for us to make zero waste our problem, but commercial waste dwarfs what we each produce. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be trying on our own as well but I’ve been trying to talk to companies about reducing the amount of packaging they use and nudging them towards biodegradable options. This also makes zero waste more accessible for folks who can’t afford the premium we often pay for sustainable options.
Not to be a grammar nazi, but I think you mean to say "positive effect" rather than "positive affect" in your sample letter 🙂
I e-mailed Carrabba’s italian restraunt chain about straws! They automatically place straws in the drinks, even refills you get a new one. Drives me batty! Thanks for this post!
Thanks for providing such a great template! Have already emailed 2 of my favorite restaurants.
I’ve emailed our family’s fav frozen yogurt chain in Singapore to not force customers to use their single use plastic containers and they are now welcoming BYO containers! Thank you for the email templates.
That’s so amazing!!!
Hello Kathryn! My friend and I have an idea to go around our city to restaurants and talking to them about considering biodegradable take out boxes and straws. We’ve started research, and I was wondering if you have any recommendations about specific brands or companies to look into that would work on a restaurant-scale. Thank you so much, and this post is really helpful. :))