How to ‘do Circular Economy’ with a Veggie Box

How to ‘do Circular Economy’ with a Veggie Box

at home circular economy food waste garbologist in business save money Feb 01, 2023

I first bought a veggie box to reduce my food miles. That was as far as my thinking went. Though I was surprised and delighted once purchased, and understood the full offering, how it helped me achieve my circularity commitments - explained within this article.

This particular service is a gate-to-plate platform for local, ecological food, and provides operational software for farms and local food retailers to sell and deliver to homes.

Here’s the ‘lifecycle thinking’ and practical steps I take, applicable in many different contexts, to apply the circular economy framework and its principles, coupled with how this supplier’s own unique way of operating has elevated my efforts into best practice.

Planning and procuring to eliminate waste from the outset

Assessing need and ordering product with intent and design

It all starts before the buying - thinking about the bigger picture and anticipating the waste that may be created. In this case, food and packaging. Do I really need vegetables? Going away or eating out a lot? Making meals that simply won’t require lot of veggies? Don’t really don’t like vegetables….. well, do not buy it in the first place and relish in the fact you took the most critical and honest step in waste prevention.

Can see it will fit? Progress to next step.


I do really want, and need, the veggie box.

First up, I know that no matter how much I’m channelling Popeye, I won’t get through an entire box a week. Calculate what you’ll need via meal planning: how many meals will I need to cook and prepare this week including batch cook and freezing.

Analyse each size box the supplier sells, and order accordingly, in this case, the smallest box.

Agile ordering

Preference this, rather than ‘set and forget’ contracts and agreements, where inefficiency thrives. This supplier allows one off orders to ensure you only buy when required.

Eliminate and reduce unnecessary material use and flows

The majority of the produce comes unpackaged. If it’s unpackaged though, it doesn’t have the protection and extended longevity that comes with the dilemma of plastic wrap etc. So you need a robust food waste avoidance strategy.

‘Unusable’ or Unnecessary extras

Identify what you don’t need and may receive. I don’t like Fennel so the supplier has let me permanently exclude it. No more carrying the unwanted aniseed beast in my backpack to offload at choir every Thursday like a peanuts character. Excellent.

Pre-planning for logistics

Set time aside to receive goods (e.g. be home on Monday nights), to transfer product, eliminate unnecessary spoilage and ensure your storage area is clear, clean and labelled where appropriate, and to mitigate theft.

Operational Excellence

Receiving goods and inventory control

Said veggies have arrived. Operational people have limited time. Have a clear, consistent and methodical process to keep things moving quickly.

This step is truly critical – organising, planning and storing the veggies so they are eaten and enjoyed.

Chat to most chefs and they’ll have a ruthlessly organised storage area and logically designed menu to ‘thread’ the same ingredients into multiple dishes on the menu for all round business efficiency. Sort the veggies from left to right according to perishability. Here you can see lettuce to sweet potato.

Cross reference to meal planning for the week to ensure all are included. Account for all veggies with information card provided to ensure order was fulfilled correctly.

Preparation and storage

Cut up anything large which needs freezing (refer previous article – ‘Woman vs celery’).

Then I store according to perishability as a visual reminder to prioritise – first to go on the right and the ‘stayers’ on the left. Leave leaves on cabbage for protection.

Challenge ingrained thinking about what qualifies for landfill and recycling

Think outside the box (no pun intended), or go back to first principles - either or are great for working through solutions.

I’ve seen discarded wrap in 3PL facilities used as padding to protect product being moved around the DC, alternative milk containers (liquid paper board) packaging recut and designed into reusable coffee cup holders in a cafe, low grade pallet material repurposed into serving counters.

 The possibilities to use traditionally problematic waste in business are endless – sometimes just a little imagination is all that’s needed.

In this case we keep it simple – going down the first principles road. What was the product on market for – to be eaten.

I applied this to beetroot, radish and carrot leaves – always destined for the worm farm, until I pondered if you could eat these, googled some recipes, et voila! Sorry worms, more for me.

Very simple I know. But that’s sometimes all it takes – just thinking differently.

Retaining packaging at its highest value

Get ready to really live the dream - this supplier takes the delivery boxes back when they deliver, to repack, and reuse for another customer, without reprocessing the material in any way.

Here’s the technical reasons this is cause for a whopping great big hip hip hooray:

Boxes are used in the same original production loop, displacing the need for new ones – this is ‘reuse’ not ‘recycling’ – which is preferable in a circular economy


Ultimately the goal is to reuse products and assets in their current form for as long as possible. This retains the value of the material and negates the energy and resource needed to recycle it.

In this instance, we’re talking about a fibre product, which (differently to glass, metals and some plastics) only has a limited number of times it can be recycled anyway (generally only recyclable 7 times) – so again, the case for reuse it strong.

The model uses ‘reverse logistics’ with their own fleet – capitalising on the driver and embodied fuel in their process to collect their own assets back.

Lastly, this takeback model can be quite rare in industry, particularly in B2C (some great happenings in B2B though)

Reusable assets ready to be collected and reincoroprated into oeprations

And they will also accept the rubber bands back to give to growers for reuse. Winning!

Regenerate systems

There is very little residual material left in this particular example, which is exactly where we want to be. (The last stems/ skins etc are dried to make veggie stock).

The current narrative focuses on returning food waste material or ‘organics’ to agricultural systems – which it rightly should. But in best practice world here, where we do not produce food waste, we’re able to turn our attention to more sophisticated discussions– e.g. regenerative farming practices to replenish soils and land, ensuring food systems are strong and resilient.

For good measure and completeness of discussion, because we’re a long way off 100% food waste avoidance: the principle here is to return inedible organic material back to growing systems – so home compost, worm farm, bokashi, drop at community compost or send to council FOGO service if you have it.

Residual organic matter does not belong in landfill, commingled recycling services or waterways where it cannot contribute back to agricultural and growing systems.

Evaluation and improvement

Analyse any losses throughout the system

Aka ‘reflect on the fridge’ - is there anything left over, did anything wilt beyond it being edible – don’t get too down, but this is a good opportunity to identify and integrate any prevention measures you may need for future – e.g. reviewing meal plans to include more leaves earlier on.

Ok, perhaps a little system loss is OK (pictured). I’d only say that this is where a holistic education and awareness program for staff will come in handy, so all ‘innocent bystanders’ know their role and can pick up the slack when things may go awry.

That’s the end of the journey for now, until we circle back to the planning stage and put a reminder somewhere to have your box and rubber bands out, ready to return!

Feedback to Suppliers for improvement

Transitioning to a Circular economy is going to be all about system thinking, partnerships and collaboration. When I alerted the Ooooby founder I was writing an article using their service, he said he’d welcome any critique too, what a legend and leader. Here are some thoughts: financially incentivise customers to return boxes, when technology avails – run fleet via EVs, targeted marketing to multi-unit dwellings of existing customers to optimise (being a values based business, not sure if that’s their vibe), enable the information card in the box to be received virtually, (which does not fully abate reduce emissions – emails have a carbon footprint too!) … and an interesting debate as the product and recipe card likely plays a key role in reducing waste ….

Reflection and celebrate outcomes:

-       Significant waste prevention

-       Maximum utilisation of product purchased

-       Reduced waste and recycling disposal bill (business: own operations, domestically: for your Council)

-       Best practice circularity achieved

-       Reduced human movements on site associated with waste and recycling disposal (aka I didn’t have to walk to the bin)

-       Holistic reduction in energy, water and carbon

-       Supporting and supplier partnership enabling circularity

-       Paying respect to the growers who originally farmed the produce

-       Improved diet: There are so many links to waste reduction and improved health

-       Feel good!  

What’s not to like? Now go and eat your veggies up.


The product placement is intentional. Bel does not consult to, volunteer for or own shares in Ooooby –she is just a loyal customer. It is worth celebrating partners and suppliers who enable your circularity initiatives, and this is a truly brilliant example.


Bel is a devoted Circular economist, thrives on avoiding food waste at home and in business, and lives for process map.

She is not a produce visual merchandiser or lifestyle photographer.

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