As brothers Christian, Patrick, and Joseph Lane were looking at their empty wine and beer bottles, a thought crossed their mind - they wondered why they couldn’t bring the bottles back to the store and refill them. With this in mind, they found inspiration from Mexican markets where they had spent some time, and continued to question why Americans used so much packaging in its grocery stores. In 2011, in an effort to reduce waste, they founded a store called in.gredients in Austin.

in.gredients, a small-scale grocery store located at 2610 Manor Rd., focuses on local food, community, and a zero waste policy. This store is the first of its kind in the States, and Austin is the perfect place for it, as it shares this eco-friendly philosophy with a goal to be a zero waste city by 2040.

What is zero waste?

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, the goal of a zero waste policy is to reduce and repurpose wasted materials, keeping them out of landfills and incinerators. To promote this policy, in.gredients encourages customers to bring their own reusable containers and bags. The store also sources local food and produce in an effort to support the local community and reduce its carbon footprint.

wine, beer, alcohol
Photo by Morgan Katz

"Zero waste isn’t that hard," in.gredients assistant manager Erica Howard says. “It’s all about sorting. It just requires due diligence.”

As a store, in.gredients is 99 percent zero waste, Howard said. Last month, they sent  a mere 8.3 pounds of trash to the landfill, which was higher than usual. In comparison, the average American produces 4.3 pounds of waste daily, according to Duke University’s Center for Sustainability and Commerce. 

Originally, in.gredients also started out as being package-free, but found that it wasn’t the best way to make a difference. “We realized that it was more important to have a conversation about packaging than to just write it off altogether,” Howard said. However, minimizing packaging is still a priority to them. When they receive an order from their coffee vendor, for example, they are given sealed buckets with the beans inside and they return the empty buckets to the vendor.

Austin as a zero waste city

Like in.gredients, Austin is also trying to significantly reduce waste. In 2009, Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) started developing a master plan for the city to obtain its zero waste goal. “We are moving towards our ultimate goal, which is for Austin to become a leader in sustainable resource recovery, with the zero waste goal of reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90 percent by the year 2040,” said Bob Gedert director of ARR.

The master plan includes new programs, policies and ordinances. For example, the single-use carryout bag ordinance, which regulates the type of bags that can be distributed by businesses in Austin and encourages a shift to reusable bags, took effect in March 2013. The goal is to encourage Austinites to use reusable bags and reduce the amount of plastic bags being used.

Additional measures to help Austin become zero waste

in.gredients and the Austin master plan also come together on the subject of composting. The city’s plan includes incentive and education programs and curbside pickup for composting to encourage citizens to participate. According to the EPA, 40 percent of U.S. landfills are food waste, which is why composting is a major part of the plan.

Photo courtesy of the EPA

According to Bob Gedert, the director of the Austin Resource Recovery Department, “nearly half of the materials that end up in landfills can be composted." He says that Austin residents have shown an interest in a weekly organic pick-up service which includes food waste, yard trimmings, and other compostable waste to help reduce their environmental impact.

Residents want to help by recycling and composting, but Gedert said it’s more than that. “We want to shift the paradigm so that when Austinites talk about trash, they will instead view materials as valuable resources,” Gedert said. “We want everyone living, working and visiting Austin to share our community pride and goal to keep Austin green and sustainable and to accomplish this goal, people need to see the value in the materials they might currently be throwing away.”