Thursday, July 11, 2019

edie's Plastics Thinkathon: Six moonshot business ideas that could eliminate single-use plastics -

edie's Plastics Thinkathon: Six moonshot business ideas that could eliminate single-use plastics -

edie's Plastics Thinkathon: Six moonshot business ideas that could eliminate single-use plastics -

Posted: 11 Jul 2019 09:17 AM PDT

With businesses continuing to make plastic-reduction commitments in the face of ever-growing stakeholder pressure, edie recently hosted a 'Plastics Thinkathon' to spur collaborative action on achieving a single-use plastic-free future, today. Here, we round up the potentially transformational results.

Dozens of sustainability professionals and materials technologists took part in the event. Image: Dhruv Boruah

Dozens of sustainability professionals and materials technologists took part in the event. Image: Dhruv Boruah

The Thinkathon took place at edie Live 2019, which saw thousands of energy, sustainability and CSR professionals descend on Birmingham's NEC for two days of talks, workshops and activities – all centred around the theme of "ambition into action".

Tucked away from the event's four main theatres was our Plastics Thinkathon zone – an area containing a giant flipchart and two round tables. Graphite Digital's creative director Thomas Michalak was facilitating; plastics campaigner Dhruv Boruah was supporting; PA Consulting, the consultancy that's bringing ingenuity to life, was sponsoring; and an array of organisations of all sizes and sectors – from Royal Mail, to Molson Coors, to the Environment Agency – were in attendance.

The conversation was quickly flowing and, while topics discussed at the theatres ranged from school strikes and Climate Emergency declarations to the electricity systems of the future, everyone was eager to discuss one topic and one topic only: how to solve the single-use plastics problem.

Following on from our first Plastics Thinkathon earlier this year – which took a two-pronged approach (product innovation and behaviour change) to recapturing the $80bn-120bn of plastic packaging that is lost annually – our facilitator, Michalak, explained that this session would instead see participants co-creating plastic-free business models for their respective industries.

Michalak's first question for the group was: "How can we help consumers understand and act on single-use plastics?" Given that just 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled to date, several Thinkathon participants agreed that committing to the elimination of single-use plastics – albeit whilst addressing the potential environmental and social consequences of doing so – has become an important consideration for sustainability and resource efficiency professionals.

"We've been concentrating on recycling for so long, or on innovative single products, and patting ourselves on the back – but global plastic production is still increasing," said Merlin Entertainments' group head of sustainability Dare Ilori. "We need to drill down into plastic-free models for our whole systems – like, for me, theme parks – for anything we do to be thinking outside of the box."

Michalak welcomed the challenge, asking delegates what their biggest barriers to offering plastic-free products and services are. Common answers included being a small business and not having the time and staff to develop and scale up an alternative; being a big business and therefore having lots of different plastics streams; costs of alternatives and concerns around keeping products such as food and medicine in safe conditions.

Michalak and Boruah then encouraged the group to take a step back and think of the sizeable benefits to overcoming these issues: carbon reduction, the birth and growth of new economies, increased social sustainability to name but a few. In removing plastic altogether, Michalak said, we can omit the need for one of the hardest nuts to crack – behaviour change.

"At the moment, it's a privilege to be able to choose a lifestyle without plastic," he said. "But if we crack this and scale it up properly, the price will come down and it will become the norm rather than the exception. Behaviour change and worries about cost disappear."

Closed-loop post and plastic-reducing pens

With a renewed sense of hope that removing plastics is possible and their eyes fixed on the huge opportunities of doing so, the group started exploring how best to remove all types of single-use plastics from the products and services which form the "bread and butter" of their respective organisations – a task they are given just 20 minutes to complete. They are asked to fold an A4 piece of paper into eighths and, like with a storyboard, place the steps needed to deliver their goods or services to clients or consumers in chronological order – removing all occurrences of single-use plastic as they go.

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When the stop-clock runs out, the first volunteer to explain their innovative plastic-free system is Brandprintcolour consultant Paul Horton, who has developed a more sustainable system for stationary.

"If you go to any office or conference, you'll see these Parker-style pens which are non-recyclable and not made from recycled material," Horton said. "To top that, the ink is toxic – from a sustainability perspective, they're all-round bad products."

Horton's system takes into account the three main areas in which the pens are likely to be used – at home, at work and for group activities. It involves a redesign of the pens to create a refillable version, operated through community-level refill hubs, and a fully recycled and recyclable version, which can be sent to schools and charities when partly used and back to the producer at the end of its life. He noted that this model would create new roles in recycling and refill, with the added benefit of bringing communities – particularly creatives, schools and office workers – together.

Other participants were keen to put forward their own ideas. Seaport and logistic park DP London Gateway's sustainability manager Emma Cowper had developed a zero-waste logistics system. It was centred around a blockchain-based app that lets consumers choose services and products with little or no plastic packaging and track them throughout their journey, with suppliers and other workers providing details on packaging and waste at every stage.

"It might cost more because you've got that tracking and transparency, but you know the truth about the supply chain and what's going to happen to your packaging and products at the end-of-life," Cowper said. "What we really care about is the consumer and we know that more information is what they want."

Royal Mail's environment manager Liz Payne had also been brainstorming a potential solution for shipping, but Payne's focused more on communications rather than new technologies. Her idea involved creating and selling durable mailing bags which can be reversed and therefore reused a minimum of four times, with clear labelling to encourage reuse and safe resealing. Once these bags have been re-used, they would be sent to a central collection point for recycling or use in energy-from-waste (EfW). Payne stressed that, while this system may sound simple, it would need to be backed up by a communications campaign and, in the best-case scenario, partnerships with central Government and local authorities.

Pet food, plant pots and pouches

As we move around the table, we come to the Environment Agency's plastics and sustainability project manager Fiona Tovey. Her solution focused on the millions of plastic plant pots sold through garden centres, supermarkets and home improvement retailers. It involved replacing plant pots with either reusable alternatives, which come with a refundable deposit price, or mushroom-protein alternatives. These, she claims, biodegrade outside of industrial conditions, providing nutrients to the soil in the process.

Next came a sustainability manager from a pet retail chain. The manager, who chose to remain anonymous, had developed a solution specifically for dry dog and cat food. The system involved switching to either rigid paper sacks or re-usable, durable and recyclable plastic boxes for dry pet food and providing customers with an in-store return point for either option. Used packaging collected in this way would be sent using electric vehicles (EVs) to a distribution centre for cleaning and refill or recycling, with any remaining food anaerobically digested.

Another product which currently comes in flexible plastic pouches with a zip-lock closure – loose-leaf tea – is tackled next. The team from London-based Jing Tea explain that they have looked into paper tea pouches and refillable plastic and aluminium alternatives in the past but have concerns about how hard-wearing paper alternatives are and around the cost of refill models.

"We need incentives for reuse that go beyond saving the planet, such as absorbing the cost and making them cheaper than the plastic sheath," Jing Tea's product and innovation manager Julie Tilson said. "It would be interesting to have a small, simplified circular economy in our business where we do the refills in-house and have our own facilities for separating the layers of our current pouches." 


Without the group realising, almost two hours had flown by and the Thinkathon had to draw to a close. Delegates added the finishing touches to their ideas and – crucially – noted down the next steps they would each take to make their innovative systems a reality. Michalak summed up his key takeaways from the session, reiterating some of the most common concerns around plastic-free business models and how these can be overcome.

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"From what I've heard, there is definitely a communications issue – it's very hard to get people to do what you want them to do with any plastic you put on the market," Michalak explained. "It's therefore clear that the brands need to make the change beyond just telling people what to do.

"But the brands can't do it alone – they need the experts to ensure that shifting away from plastic isn't just a string of conflicts between value, customer service and the environment. Doing something 'for the sake of the world' isn't going to cut it if it doesn't make money or keep people coming back to you. The good news is that we're at a point in time where it doesn't have to be a choice between people, planet and profit."

Summarising the Plastics Thinkathon, Mark Lancelott, plastics expert from the global innovation and transformation consultancy PA, said: "The impact of single-use plastics has captured the attention of consumers, who are rightly expecting businesses to respond. Finding ingenious solutions that don't create other problems – such as increased food waste or greenhouse gas emissions – is not simple. Getting bright and passionate people from different disciplines, organisations and industries to work together is critical, and it was great to see the ideas start to flow in the short time participants spent together.

"At PA, we believe in the power of ingenuity to build a positive human future. We're delighted to have been a part of edie's Plastics Thinkathon and look forward to creating enduring results for more companies in this space."

Sarah George

15 Small Town Business Ideas You Should Consider Launching - Point of Sale News (tm)

Posted: 25 Jun 2019 12:00 AM PDT

PointofSale small town storefronts small town business ideas-01

If you're planning to open a new business, finding the right location is one of the most important decisions you'll make.

While a big city may seem like the obvious locale to plant your roots, don't rule out starting a business in a small town. United States census data found that small town populations are growing; which creates the perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs like you to get in on the ground floor.

This upward trend inspired us to put together this list of the 15 best small town business ideas to encourage you to find your passion.

1. Restaurant

No matter where you settle or how small the population of the city is, people need to eat — and they don't always want to cook at home. From diners to fine-dining and quick-service restaurants, every local community deserves a few good restaurants where residents can find a great meal.

If you have a knack for the culinary arts or you're a passionate foodie with the drive to learn the business, opening a restaurant could be a very successful endeavor for you.

Make sure you set yourself up for success by doing the proper market research before opening, find reliable and qualified vendors, and invest in technology like a restaurant POS system for operational efficiency and accurate analytics about your business.

2. Coffee Shop (and Hybrid Bar)

Along the same lines as restaurants, coffee shops (or tea houses) are another great small town business idea. Since Americans drink 102 billion cups of coffee annually, chances are no matter what corner of this great nation you set up shop; you'll find coffee drinkers.

However, the downfall to only serving beverages made from beans and leaves all day is that after breakfast, people tend to opt for other types of drinks. This shift in preference can impact your business hours and potential revenue later in the day.

To help combat slow periods in the afternoon and evening, you can incorporate an additional business idea that compliments your core business. For example, after 4pm, you can open a 'bar'; an ice cream bar, a frozen yogurt bar, or a more traditional bar that serves beer and wine.

Do your research and determine what type of bar would attract the most customers and fill a void in the local community. Also, remember, since your hybrid coffee house is attracting different customer segments, make sure you maximize the floor plan and design to create a welcoming atmosphere — something that will make everyone feel relaxed and comfortable.

3. Movie Theater (as in Drive-in)

If there's one thing that rural areas have over big cities, it's space. While it's all about building vertically in the metropolis, less populated areas have the option to expand horizontally.

Let's take the most populated city on the east coast, for example. If you Google the term 'movie theaters NYC' you'll be flooded with a variety of search results. All over Manhattan and most of the surrounding boroughs, movie theaters are multi-floor megaplexes nestled between high-rise apartment buildings and skyscrapers.

Now, go ahead and Google the term 'drive-in movie theaters NYC' and see what type of results you get. While the search engine does deliver results for that term, none of the listings are actually in New York City. So, unless parking garages start installing movie screens, drive-in theaters in the Big Apple are not a practical business venture.

On the other hand, in the suburbs and less densely populated areas, drive-ins are much more practical — and a great small town business idea. If you consider putting up a movie theater, remember that big chains do control new Hollywood releases. Focusing on indie films or well-liked classics may be more rewarding — and profitable.

As a bonus, you can forge partnerships with local food distributors or even open an in-house restaurant to provide meals and snacks to patrons.

People have an affinity for nostalgia and what's more nostalgic than a drive-in movie theater in smalltown U.S.A.?

PointofSale drive in theater small town business ideas-01

4. Auto Repair Shop

If you've ever lived in a small town, you already know having an automobile to get from point A to B is practically a requirement. Public transportation is non-existent, so unless you're going to walk or ride a bike everywhere you need to go, a car is a must-have in rural areas. This vehicular necessity creates the perfect business opportunity for auto repair shops to open in smaller communities.

Whether it's routine maintenance, major repair work, or towing services, as long as people are on the roads, an auto shop will be a viable business.

5. Accounting and Tax Services

If you have a knack for numbers or you're an experienced CPA that wants to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life, starting an accounting service in a small town might be the right fit for you.

Whether you work for the man (or woman) or you work for yourself, everyone has to file taxes. However, not everyone is comfortable with self-file options and opt for the help of a local professional.

6. Funeral and Cremation Services

As Benjamin Franklin once said, "there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes," and we've already discussed the latter. Although a sad and painful part of life's journey, death is something everyone has to deal with at one time or another.

This inevitable end means there's always a need for proper memorial services and a funeral home to arrange those services. Today, funerals cost $5,000 or more on average; making it a profitable business venture if you have thick skin for this melancholy industry.

7. Salon, Barbershop, or Other Cosmetology Services

If you enjoy working with people and like to make them feel good about themselves, opening up a salon or barbershop is a great small town business idea. Except for the follically challenged, everyone needs a haircut from time to time; and this recurring need equates to more dollars and cents for you.

Besides cutting hair, there are a variety of other services you can offer, such as coloring, makeup, nails, or even waxing, to create additional revenue streams. Remember, these practices may require special licensing or certification, so make sure you check the state requirements.

No matter where you go, people will always want to look their best. That's why makeup and other cosmetic businesses can also weather an economic storm. Unlike other items such as jewelry, makeup supplies occasionally must be refreshed, which means you'll get consistent return business if you can generate loyal customers.

See Also: The Best Salon POS System Features to Keep You a Cut Above

8. Grocery Store (as in Specialty Foods)

Although big-box grocery stores in large markets carry a variety of specialty foods, smaller markets aren't as fortunate for two reasons:

  • Large chains grocers are less likely to set up shop in extremely rural areas because a smaller population will mean fewer sales, and fewer sales mean fewer profits.
  • If a big box retailer does open for business in a small community, they will likely stock their shelves with items that appeal to the masses to maximize sales.

This oversight leaves the door wide open for an entrepreneur like you to swoop in and open a specialty food store. While the exact kind of specialty store will depend on your location and market demands, don't be afraid to leverage local resources like nearby farms or orchards to stock your shelves. Farm-to-table freshness is always a winning recipe.

9. Thrift Store or Consignment Shop

If there's one thing all people have in common, it's that they're always on the lookout for a bargain. This instinct to seek out the best deal means thrift store will always have a steady flow of customers.

Second-hand stores are not only a less expensive shopping option for cash-strapped consumers, but it's also an outlet for the community to recycle unwanted items. At one time or another, we all outgrow our clothes or no longer need certain products in our lives. Rather than toss those items to the wayside, why not let someone else get some life out of it?

Keep in mind, if you open a thrift store, the majority of your inventory will come via donations or on consignment. While this unconventional way of stocking shelves saves money on inventory cost and dealing with vendors, it does tack on other layers of complexity.

For example, you will need to coordinate donation drop-offs or pickups, intake inventory, and keep track of any items you have on consignment so you can adequately pay out the sellers. We aren't saying this to deter you from opening this type of business, but rather to let you know that operations won't be like a traditional retail store.

PointofSale thrift store small town business ideas-01

10. Beer, Wine, and Spirits

More often than not, at social gatherings or celebrations, people will have a drink or two to mark the special day. Why not capitalize on this social convention?

You could open up a small town bar where people can gather to commemorate a special occasion. If hospitality isn't your thing, you can open up a retail liquor store where locals can shop for spirits in favor of at-home celebrations.

11. Sweets and Treats

It's widely known that most people have a sweet tooth, in fact, it's nearly impossible to find someone who doesn't. Folks consider sweets an affordable kind of luxury item; they are delicious, they make you feel good, and they pass for food. It's a winning trifecta, one that can translate to an active small business for you. If you're looking for a twist, you can appeal to a particular demographic. Organic foods are still in style, as in vegan desserts.

An additional option you can consider is opening up a pop-up shop. Pop-up shops are more cost friendly and much less risky to open than a permanent store. Launching your pop up shop will allow you to test the market to see what type of sweet treats resonate with the residents in your area. It's a win-win situation if you're trying to get your name out there, but also want a better chance to try out what works best for you and your customers before committing to something more long-term.

12. Bed and Breakfast

If you're looking for a place to dwell and escape city life, why not open a small town bed and breakfast where you can live and simultaneously produce an income? You get to live in a beautiful house, meet interesting people, and be your own boss — an entrepreneurial hat trick.

Unless a small town has tons of historical value to attract tourists or happens to sit right next to a major interstate for passerbys, they often lack adequate lodging for out of town guests. Enter your B and B – the perfect combination of a boutique hotel and down-home hospitality.

See Also: 4 Reasons Small Town Businesses Thrive

13. Cleaning Services

Launching your own cleaning service business is one of the most simple small town business opportunities to kick-start your entrepreneurial independence for three reasons.

  • Everyone strives to have flexible work schedules, and starting your own cleaning business allows you to have that. You're able to have complete control of your schedule and set appointments according to what works best for you.
  • You don't need a ton of experience or certifications to launch this type of business. Everyone knows how to clean. You just need to be meticulous, take pride in your work, and have a passion for success to stay afloat.
  • Cleaning service businesses are an extremely cost-friendly endeavor, and you don't need a lot of startup money to launch. All you need are some cleaning supplies and a few business cards, so this is perfect for someone who wants to start a business without going into debt.

14. Education and Consulting Services

If you're an expert in something, why not make money off your expertise? You can tutor students, be a coach, an instructor, or offer consulting services if your knowledge lends itself to that better.

These types of services also lend themselves to a somewhat flexible schedule that will give you a positive work-life balance. Additionally, because many of them are home-based businesses, you'll save money on overhead costs such as rent and additional utility bills.

15. Childcare Services

It takes a particular (and patient) type of person to work with children. If you have a passion for education and love working with kids, opening up a childcare service might be for you — especially if you're a stay-at-home parent.

Not only do you get the opportunity to work with other children, but you can also include your children (for free) as part of your daycare program. Anyone who has paid childcare expenses knows this financial advantage alone is worth the effort of starting this type of business.

Also, the emotional reward for looking after and educating children is a huge one. You can have a positive impact on each child's life by implementing fun and educational games and activities into your program. The gratitude and positive change you will see from the children and their parents is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

In Conclusion

Small towns are great places to kick-start your business and entrepreneurial spirit. Launching a business in a small town can be the perfect opportunity to guide you along a path of financial independence. Finding the right community for you is the first step, and selecting one of the small town business ideas above can make your decision that much easier.

About the Author

Morgan Davis

As a marketing intern for Shift4 Payments, Morgan creates relevant and engaging content for She leverages her hospitality experience and public relations knowledge to engage small business owners on an informational platform. Morgan graduated from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a B.A. in Communication/Journalism and a concentration in public relations.

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