- Companies that prioritize low-waste or zero plastic use boomed alongside single-use plastics during COVID-19.
- Blueland, a green cleaning products maker, grew 800% year-over-year during COVID-19.
- These eco-friendly companies predict this growth will continue.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The demand for single-use plastic-based products like takeout containers has skyrocketed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but as this plastic use rises, so have sales for companies focused on low waste and the elimination of unnecessary plastic use.
According to a report by CBS in August, environmentalists are concerned by this uptick in single-use plastics and plastic waste during the global coronavirus crisis. A microplastics expert has even gone as far as to say that this resulting damage could “last forever,” according to a report by BBC published in September 2020.
During this time, zero-waste traditionalists also started using plastic again. This includes Lauren Singer, CEO of Package Free Shop and a self-proclaimed “zero waste environmental activist,” according to her Instagram profile, who published a 10-slide Instagram post in March 2020 describing why she decided to purchase plastic items in late March as the coronavirus pandemic started taking hold of the US.
“For eight years, I have lived a zero-waste lifestyle, meaning I have not sent anything to landfill and, over that time, I have made every effort to be a near-perfect pillar of my values,” Singer wrote in her Instagram post. “But two weeks ago, when the reality of COVID-19 set in, I made some choices that went against the way I have lived my life for almost a decade.”
Like Singer, several companies also started shifting towards single-use plastic items again. Starbucks, for example, stopped accepting the use of reusable cups, and some states and cities began banning the use of reusable grocery bags in grocery stores, according to a report by Today.
Despite all of this single-use plastic bombardment, companies focused on decreasing waste and plastic use – like Blueland, EcoRoots, by Humankind, and Wild Minimalist – started seeing an increase in sales.
A surprising surge in sales
Blueland, a carbon-neutral company that creates “environmentally responsible” cleaning products without single-use plastics, saw an increase in demand by over 300% in the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival in the US, according to Blueland’s CEO and co-founder Sarah Paiji Yoo in an October 2020 email interview with Insider. Overall, the company has grown 800% year over year.
According to Paiji Yoo, Blueland had already been seeing rapid growth before the pandemic, but this growth was then expedited with the onset of COVID-19 and the boom in both e-commerce and sustainable living. And so far, the increase in demand has stayed steady during the pandemic.
Blueland has also received several certifications – including B Corp and EPA Safer Choice – to maintain its eco-friendly title and combat the trend of “greenwashing.” According to Paiji Yoo, it’s the company’s “environmental mission” that’s been allowing the company to both retain and attract new customers.
“While the e-commerce boom can be credited as an element of our growing audience base, our ability to maintain the business says something about people shifting their priorities to become more conscious consumers, specifically on matters of sustainable living and the benefits of planet and people-friendly products,” Paiji Yoo said.
Even though the company was expecting an increase in demand for its products during the coronavirus pandemic, the rapid growth caught the Blueland team by surprise.
“As a result, we decided to strategically double down on our direct-to-consumer channel, add a subscription model to make receiving refills seamless, and shift our timeline for a larger entry into wholesale to a later date,” Paiji Yoo wrote.
Why sustainability-focused companies grew
By Humankind – a carbon-neutral personal care products maker that also doesn’t use single-use plastics – doesn’t attribute its growth amid the coronavirus pandemic to just one aspect.
“Maybe people are looking for meaning in new places,” By Humankind’s co-founder and CEO Brian Bushell wrote in an email interview with Insider in November 2020. “Who knows? The important thing is, it’s happening.”
By Humankind, which is almost two years old, has been growing five times year-over-year pre-coronavirus, and this growth did not drop off during the pandemic.
“Because we’re a small company, we’re able to be nimble and create products where we see customer demand while being true to the mission to eliminate single-use plastic,” Bushell wrote.
This includes the roll-out of its plastic-free moisturizing hand sanitizer, which was launched in April 2020.
“When the pandemic arrived and with it the spike in demand for hand sanitizer that won’t dry your hands, we accelerated our launch timeline for our hand sanitizer … ahead of some of the other products we’re working on to meet demand,” Bushell wrote.
According to Bushell, the plastic-free hand sanitizer bottles were also launched in response to the growing number of small sanitizer bottles that were being used and tossed. However, the company’s hand soap has remained a consumer favorite.
EcoRoots – a zero-waste company that sells products with sustainable packaging – also saw an increase in sales for its eco-friendly soaps, as well as its beauty products, EcoRoots’ co-founder Antonia Pitica told Business Insider in an email interview in November 2020. However, sales for the company’s reusable coffee cups dropped.
Pitica attributes this increase in demand to elements like the growth of the zero waste movement and conscious shopping, marketing, and the explosion of online shopping, especially for personal care items.
But like other companies across all industries, EcoRoots ran into order fulfillment issues this year, specifically with shipping and delivery problems.
“We have to place orders ahead of time, sometimes months ahead, to be able to satisfy the demand, and that puts a lot of pressure on cashflow,” Pitica wrote. “USPS is and will continue to be the e-commerce business’s biggest proverbial Achilles heel as this transition to online shopping keeps growing.”
Growth so big, a company had to move facilities
Wild Minimalist – another online plastic-free and sustainability-focused business that also has a brick and mortar store in California – “essentially doubled overnight,” Wild Minimalist co-founder Max Cameron told Business Insider in an interview in October 2020.
Wild Minimalist had been at least doubling its growth annually since it was founded in 2017, but sales during the coronavirus pandemic allowed the company to hit its 2020 targets almost immediately.
“As soon as we got into April 2020, [we got to] the point where we had to move into a new facility that was triple the size because we had to hold more inventory and the demand was increasing,” Cameron said.
During this time, the company started struggling to meet orders due to delays and backlogs, which also happened in part because of supply chain issues. However, this initial boom in sales has since tapered off and “come back down to manageable levels,” according to Cameron.
During this time of growth, Wild Minimalist saw a specific uptick in sales of its cleaning tools and “food preservation product line” as more people started grocery shopping more and eating out at restaurants less. To accommodate this change in purchasing behavior, the company began looking into extending its product line.
Demand for certain products stayed so strong throughout COVID-19, Wild Minimalist recently “signed long-term agreements with some vendors to guarantee increased supply,” Cameron told Insider in May.
“Another thing that’s been really important for us is picking up new vendors that are owned by [people who are] Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and we’ve heard that loud and clear from our customer base,” Cameron continued.
Growth is not dependent on the pandemic
“I think that as the movement grows, larger companies will probably start re-thinking their goals, their ideal target customers, and the ways that they create new products,” Pitica wrote. “And frankly, it was about time for the old ways of doing business to change.”
The companies agree that this boom in sales isn’t just a COVID-19-related trend and that demand for sustainable, eco-friendly products will not drop off after the coronavirus pandemic.
“People will continue to clean more frequently and consciously, and there has been a permanent acceleration to e-commerce for buying cleaning products,” Paiji Yoo wrote. “For Blueland specifically, we feel well-positioned for long-term success beyond the pandemic, as we’re continuing to build a strong foundation for the business that will benefit us post-COVID.”