Grocery delivery services for the win! I think that should become my slogan at this point because it really can get me talking. They minimize transportation emissions and maximize efficiency in the distribution channel. I compared the difference between a meal delivery service and an individual grocery store trip more in my Hello Fresh review. And I was shocked to see the difference a delivery service makes on the environment. Since then, I have been on the hunt for different variations of meal subscription services. Most recently, a friend from Voiz had recommended that I check out Zero groceries: a plastic-free grocery delivery service where their groceries are all delivered within glass jugs. Would they be as sustainable as plastic-free sounds?
Zero sources most of their products locally and unlike many other companies, they have provided many examples on their website as evidence. Their herbs are sourced from Jacob’s Farm and Bay Area Herbs while their baked goods are from Bay-area companies. All their beef comes from C&H Meat Company in Castro Valley, California and their seafood is from Four Star Seafoods in San Francisco. Just from a quick search on the internet, they are partnering with a lot of local Californian stores and that makes all the difference in carbon emissions when most grocers partner with major distributors that source foods from all across the country. On the other hand, their cows aren’t grass-fed meaning their cows are eating an unnatural diet that is based on corn and soy. When it comes to different kinds of feed options, there is always a tradeoff for naturalness and land usage. A grass-fed cow uses about three times the amount of land as a grain-fed cow. What is more important to consider in this scenario is the treatment of cows which I can’t seem to find any information on when I look at Zero or C&H Meat’s website. Thankfully, they are doing a lot better in the seafood department when it comes to information. Four Star Seafoods only works with local fishers that are committed to sustainability but I also can’t seem to find any information on how fishers are held accountable nor what commitment to sustainability they are suggesting. Zero is also vague when they say that some of their products are sourced from “farther away”. Of course, it will be farther away but how much farther away is what I am concerned about. On the surface, Zero is presenting itself as an environmentally driven company but it seems like once I look deeper that I can’t find anything beyond that. I know Zero is still relatively new but I would need a lot more details before I’m willing to purchase from them.
What makes Zero different from other grocery delivery services are its reusable glass jugs that eliminate plastic bags from the equation. I wanted to compare whether a glass jug to a plastic bottle across its life cycle and the closest thing I could find to an accurate comparison is a comparison between a plastic bottle and a glass bottle. In Europe’s 2016 Waste Management Symposium, Odobasi and Buyukgungor concluded that a glass bottle has more negative impacts on the environment than a plastic bottle because of its higher energy consumption during production, heavier weight, and high fuel consumption. According to the second visual in their report, a plastic bottle would use a third of the number of resources that a glass bottle would use. However, they had assumed that the two bottles would only be used once and didn’t factor in the number of times that a glass bottle would be reused. Assuming that these calculations are a rough estimation of a glass jug’s footprint compared to a plastic bag, reusing a glass jug over time would offset its initial impact and ultimately, have a smaller impact than a plastic bag.
Currently, they only operate in Los Angeles and San Francisco. There isn’t much information on their website about the condition of their drivers however, one job opening for a Hub driver position said that they are paid around 20 USD/hour. When it comes to wages, they seem to be fair. What I’m more curious to learn about is whether they are optimizing their routes. If they are driving from one end to the city and back, I’m not quite convinced that they save more emissions than the customers driving to the grocery stores themselves with a reusable bag. At least, we can find comfort knowing that all that energy spent producing jugs isn’t going to waste and collecting dust in customer’s kitchens. Zero streamlines the jug collection process to ensure that their jugs are being reused. Since it operates on a subscription model, it picks up jugs during each delivery. Talk about a cradle-to-cradle model! After that, the jugs are run through a commercial-grade washer and sprayed with food-grade sanitizer. Food grade sanitizer can be oxidizing or non-oxidizing and this little detail matters because it can determine its environmental impact. Most oxidizing sanitizers are made of hydrogen peroxide which is safe for the environment considering it’s mainly made of oxygen and water. However, an example of a non-oxidizing sanitizer is quaternary ammonia which ranges in its biodegradability. There seems to be a running theme here where we, as consumers, don’t know too much about the business' operations but are able to get a gist of it based on our interactions with the company. It's hard to trust a company when they aren't transparent in and outside of production and I would like to see more details on their distribution chain before I would be ready to purchase anything.
Zero is determined to make convenience and environmentalism go hand in hand - something that we call a win-win here at Voiz! They are continually finding ways to improve their packaging and making it sustainable, even opting for a cornstarch-lined sheet instead of a plastic sticker. Their subscription model allows for them to pick up jugs and any other packaging that would need to be tossed in a special facility - meaning that we can avoid the mistake of putting something in the wrong bin and creating a cascade of impacts. They are the first in the industry to create a plastic-free delivery service and I think that on its own is a feat! It’s amazing to me to see the kind of improvements we are making in the food delivery industry and it gives me hope to see a company like this emerging. In a recent news article published by ProgressiveGrocer, Zero had announced that they would use the 3 million they raised towards more sustainable packaging. I love how they are fulfilling their commitment and continually seeking ways to further their purpose. With grocery services rising in demand, especially during quarantine, I’m grateful to have more sustainable delivery options enter the industry.
While Zero is headed in the right direction to decreasing plastic use, it is blazing through it relatively fast. The qualities that make its model strong are yet to be fully disclosed - how many miles are their drivers saving when they do deliveries instead of customers doing individual trips? What is their sanitation process? They may be reducing the carbon footprint in one stage of the life cycle but in order for there to be real change, there must be a lower carbon footprint across all the life cycles. Zero’s jars are all transparent - now they need to be too.