Waste Not is an open-sourced database of eco-friendly packaging and supply chain solutions and suppliers to help the decision-makers behind brands find better, lower-carbon alternatives. It was built by brand builder Michelle Mattar after building out packaging projects through her work. We spoke to Michelle about the mission and future of Waste Not.
What prompted you to start Waste Not?
I started Waste Not because I had built this rich resource of sustainable materials over the years that I kept reaching back for. I realized that if this resource is helping me, it's in my best interest to allow others to access it. There is no reason for better sources to be a trade secret when we all collectively benefit.
I remember when a brand I built first really 'caught on' – I visited the fulfillment center and saw for myself just how much product was being shipped out. It was a big moment for me to stare that responsibility in the face, and to realize what success can really mean in these scenarios.
From that moment on, I started attaching mandatory sustainability research scopes to packaging projects. Waste Not was born out of years of growing that research. Over time, I had built this amazing rolodex of better alternatives that I was referencing project after project, and wanted to open-source it for others to access and add to.
How do you think your past experience as a creative director and brand designer has helped you in developing and running Waste Not?
Of course, my background gave me the ability to ideate, design and build a presence and online experience for Waste Not. But mostly, from having worked so closely with business owners on early stage concepts: I saw how hard (and expensive) doing the right thing could be. That experience definitely informed my approach of encouraging people to do better immediately, even in small steps, instead of waiting for perfection.
Why did you decide to make it an open-source platform?
Better sources help everyone, and I want Waste Not to not just be free to use, but something that could be built on by collective knowledge.
How do you think Waste Not addresses sustainability issues in e-commerce?
Waste Not helps people in e-commerce find alternatives: whether it be temperature-regulated shippers, compostable containers or bio-based packing materials. Depending on what stage you're at, you can filter by minimums to see what companies might be able to work with you on finding something better.
How can businesses do better in reducing waste?
I always say to make a big plan that would make you proud of how small your footprint is, but get there step-by-step and action it in small ways, as soon as you can. It's not about being "zero waste" right away: that is incredibly costly and as a business still getting their footing, not always achievable. Do what you can, as you can.
I also encourage anyone to action making an impact: from having a conversation with your boss about reducing the company's footprint, to a tough chat with a client. You don't have to be the business owner to address the opportunity to reduce.
Where do you see Waste Not in five years?
I hope to see Waste Not grow as a collective resource that we can all add to. I've also gotten great feedback that I hope to implement to make sure that Waste Not is even more helpful in sorting and searching functionalities over time.
How do you implement conscious consumption and sustainability practices in your own life?
I have personal practices – from riding my bike everywhere (even in this awful NYC winter, I rode to work almost every day!) to packing lunch, shopping vintage or cutting down plastic purchases. But I'm not perfect, nor is anyone – and I think the most powerful tool in my arsenal has honestly been reading and learning. The best thing you can do is be informed.
Part of why I'm so passionate about this space is that I started doing the research, and as someone building consumer goods, I have the ability to inform a product being produced at scale and make a bigger impact than my individual purchasing power ever could. I take that responsibility and opportunity to heart!
Any books, podcasts or articles you love that have helped further your education on climate and sustainability, or intersectional environmentalism?
The team at Practice works with me to keep Waste Not running, and we share a lot of great sources together. These aren't necessarily our favorite-evers, but some that recently sparked some great conversation:
Shared by Michelle: “The podcast "Ashes, Ashes" gets really in the weeds on systemic issues. I suggest combing through it to find a topic you care about and give one a go.”
Shared by Sam: Racism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues from the New York Times
Shared by Claire: More Recycling Won't Solve Plastic Pollution from Scientific American
Shared by Franny: H&M is one of fashion’s biggest polluters. Now its foundation is on a $100 million quest to save the planet from Fast Company
Shared by Crissy: This dress has been crafted using algae-based sequins & carbon-neutral fabric from Design Boom
Shared by Michelle: Nespresso just spent $1.2 million to fix a problem it created by existing from Fast Company