This Zero-Waste Grocery Service Makes Sustainability Convenient in Some of America's Largest Cities

A person hands another person a tote bag on their doorstep.

Some of the most valid barriers to living a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle are cost and accessibility. 

Simply put, sustainable raw materials are often a lot more expensive, and artisans that create and distribute ethically-made everyday items put a lot more time, care, and labor into this work than big box retailers.

But that keeps so many of us from investing in sustainable swaps. Subsequently, reaching for the convenience of corporate giants like Amazon has become second nature to so many of us who live busy, stressful lives. It seems like an endless cycle. 

And it is. In 2021 alone, Amazon shipped an estimated 7.7 billion packages worldwide, according to a study from the University of Washington. 

While we totally understand the need for accessible essentials, the logistics and distribution behind these major companies play a huge role in our destruction of the environment

Alexander Torrey set out to confront these barriers, asking: How do we get people their everyday essentials with no waste and with the same convenience they’ve grown accustomed to?

Alex Torrey and Byungwoo Ko smile behind a variety of jars containing different snack foods
Alexander Torrey and Byungwoo Ko. Photo courtesy of The Rounds

Torrey and his business partner Byungwoo Ko united in 2019 to found The Rounds, a zero-waste grocery delivery service that now operates in major cities across the United States.

What is The Rounds?

The Rounds works just like any other grocery delivery service: Members pay a fee ($10 a month), select their essentials from a wide array of household basics and pantry samples, and then have them delivered weekly by a courier.

The difference here is that the Rounds products are distributed in refillable and reusable containers, so when your delivery person (or “Rounder”) comes to drop off your next installment of goods, they can pick up any empty containers to refill for the next time. 

All items are brought to members in a reusable canvas tote bag, and many of them — like raw honey or yummy pastries — are produced locally right within the community. It’s a closed-loop system that does the refill work for you. 

A person rides an electric bike attached to a trailer carrying boxes
Rounders deliver grocery orders via electric bike. Photo courtesy of The Rounds

The Rounds now operates in four major cities: Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami, and Atlanta. 

“The Rounds is a one-stop shop to manage all the stuff coming in and out of your home more sustainably, using fancy data science and good old-fashioned customer service to make it super easy,” CEO and co-founder Torrey said in an email to Good Good Good.

“[We] deliver the goods you need, right to your door on the same day every week, all organized in your own personal dashboard online, and delivered in reusable containers. Once you’re done with a container, we pick up your empties to be cleaned, sanitized, and reused.”

So who is the “we” in question here? That would be the Rounders, who are paid employees with full benefits who literally “make the rounds” via electric bike — or sometimes by van. They sort of act like your modern-day milkman (or plant-based-milk-delivery-person-of-any-gender).

This service is what many of us dream of accessing, as a way to cut out the hassle of visiting refill stores — if those are even operational or accessible in our neighborhoods. But, of course, like many startups, growth takes time.

Nonetheless, Torrey is excited by recent milestones, including tripling the service area for all four cities, so that more neighborhoods and zip codes can get in on the action.

To put some of that into perspective, this equates to about 1 million households serviced in each of The Rounds’ cities — even expanding to zip codes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, outside of Miami.

This also includes expanded product catalogs, such as additions like local produce baskets, and expanded service options, such as compost pickup, SodaStream refills, technology recycling, and even donation pickups.

Local businesses are also at the heart of these deliveries, as the brand works with area vendors to supply goods like coffee, bread, and other fresh food items. 

While Torrey says the dream is to expand this market and “make single-use packaging waste a thing of the past in every neighborhood around the country,” some of that local charm is what makes The Rounds so special — and that’s hard to scale. Regardless, the brand seems committed to ensuring accessible price points across the board. 

A screenshot of the Rounds' shopping page on its website
Users can select from a catalog of over 200 everyday essentials. Photo courtesy of the Rounds

“We designed The Rounds membership to be a simple monthly subscription of only $10, with no delivery fees or service fees,” Torrey explained. 

“From there, members can choose to spend as little or as much as they like on their refill order each week. Our products are priced to be comparable to what you’d find at a high-quality grocery store in your neighborhood, without any markups.” 

Like other delivery services, it’s easy to pause if you’re out of town or swap items each week, but unlike others, you can look forward to greeting your weekly “Rounder” and rely on a reality without needless waste or shipping containers to get you what you need. 

“It’s all meant to help you make managing the stuff you use every day easier and more sustainable,” Torrey said, “for you and the planet.”

Article Details

August 9, 2023 1:52 PM
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