Pro skier Sam Schwartz launched Avant Delivery with hopes of making his hometown of Jackson, Wyoming more sustainable. Avant Delivery photo.
With both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks as well as a plethora of public land right in its backyard, the city of Jackson, Wyoming is immersed in some of the most breathtaking landscapes you can find. But Jackson, like many cities in the United States, is also home to an ugly problem: there’s no way to recycle most single-use plastic. Everything from hummus dishes to raspberry containers to toothpaste tubes has to be tossed into the trash and trucked out to a landfill. At first, it doesn’t seem like much, but when you factor in that 2.6 million people visit this valley every year, it means there’s a lot of plastic being thrown away.
At the end of the day, all that single-use plastic waste adds up. According to the EPA, at least 69% of plastic packaging winds up in dumps after it’s been used. And not all of it stays there. Wind and water currents have been known to carry litter back into the surrounding ecosystems, where it annoyingly tends to hang around for a long, long time. It’s become such a problem in our waterways and oceans that the United Nations recently declared ocean plastic pollution “a planetary crisis.”
For Jackson-raised professional skier Sam Schwartz, the issue hits pretty close to home. He’s always been frustrated with all the unnecessary plastic packaging that’s generated from grocery shopping and take-out food—especially in a town like Jackson that lives and breathes the outdoors. He reasoned that if any town could champion sustainability it would be this community. So, this spring Schwartz launched Avant Delivery, Wyoming’s first sustainable service for grocery delivery, zero-waste restaurant takeout, and waste management. While most of us know him for his antics on skis and the backflips he throws into Corbet’s Couloir, Schwartz has an impressive background in business and accounting as well. Combining that with the tenacity he’s gleaned from his freeskiing career, Schwartz created Avant with hopes of bringing Jackson one step closer to a plastic-free future. We sat down with the newfound entrepreneur to learn more about his goals with the business and how we can hopefully eliminate pesky plastic waste from our day-to-day lives.
In a nutshell, what is Avant Delivery?
Sam Schwartz: Avant Delivery is the system that makes sustainability easy for everyone. Customers pay a monthly membership fee, get access to our reusable packaging network, grocery delivery, and waste management. It’s all based on our reusables system. When you sign up we drop off a reusables box (think contemporary recycling bin) and a compost bucket at your home. At participating businesses around town, you can use your Avant Membership to get reusable take-out boxes at restaurants, reusable bags at stores, and reusable drinkware at coffee shops. You can also order from our Avant Grocery Store to get local food in our reusable packaging delivered right to your door for free. When you’re done with any of our packaging, you simply place it in the reusables box for us to pick up weekly, clean, and put back into the system. The whole process eliminates single-use packaging!
Left: A big component of Avant Delivery is their reusable packaging network. Right: Sam Schwartz hopes his business can help Jackson become plastic-free. Avant Delivery photos.
Was there a defining moment that compelled you to launch Avant?
SS: There was no defining moment, rather years of a growing ambition that we could somehow create a system where we don’t need to throw EVERY bit of packaging away after one use.
In 2016 my college girlfriend and I would walk out of the grocery store avoiding most food in plastic packaging while carrying everything in our arms because we always forgot a bag. At the time, I knew things could be better, it just took me years of refining to figure out how. Fast forward four years and we’re in the middle of the pandemic, using more plastic than ever, and I knew that now was the time to launch.
What’s Avant’s solution to the lack of recycling for single-use plastic containers in Jackson?
SS: By working directly with local food producers to put their product in our Avant reusable packaging (and delivering fresh to your door). When you’re finished with your packaging you place it in your reusables box rather than your trash can or recycling bin. We then pick up the reusables box weekly, take the packaging back to our facility, clean it, and put it back into the system. It eliminates the need to use plastic packaging altogether.
When you’re done with the reusable packaging the Avant Delivery team picks it up to clean and put it back in the system. Avant Delivery photo.
Why focus on grocery shopping and local restaurants?
SS: Everyone needs to eat right? We decided that starting with food/drinks was the most powerful way to get our system into the customer’s daily lives—especially with the take-out craze initiated by the pandemic. This allows us to assist local businesses with becoming more sustainable and lessening their impact, as well as increasing their bottom line. Packaging is expensive. The more reusable packaging from us they use, the more money they save.
Most of us know you for your skiing, but what other skills did you lean on to create Avant?
SS: It seems like I’ve gotten a reputation for my large airs throughout my ski career, but it’s been the business acumen that I developed from trying to be a professional athlete that’s really come in handy. When I was 15 years old, I had dreams of being a professional skier and traveling the world. My strategy was to ski everything in Jackson I saw in the TGR films and send emails to everyone. I was always bugging people to sponsor me, working some angle on how I could help their brand out. For the first two years, I was ignored and told no. But then at 17, I won the Junior World Championship at Snowbird and my career blossomed from there. It helped that I already had the contacts in the industry and the ambition to work new angles on how I could bolster any company’s team. What better prep for being an entrepreneur is there than being denied and always having to explain why you could help a brand become better? That and I graduated MSU with a degree in accounting at the top of my class. That helped me to understand the finance behind running a business.
In the wintertime you can usually find Sam sending it huge here at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
How does Avant hope to mitigate unnecessary waste by working with local businesses?
SS: When you buy locally, you financially support a local business owner. When you buy locally, your food doesn’t have to travel as far, minimizing the impact of carbon emissions from transportation. One of our big goals is to give customers more compelling reasons to buy locally. When you buy a local product from us, it’s delivered right to your door (free for members), fresh from the source, all in our reusable packaging. We are opening a new platform for local suppliers to sell their product that alleviates a lot of logistics on their end.
How would you like to see Avant grow?
SS: I see Avant as something that should be in everyone’s homes. I honestly see a world where every home has a trash can, recycling bin, reusables box, and compost bucket. Our reusable packaging system saves businesses money and makes life easier for customers. Why not think big? We need to change our systems to have any chance of combating global warming.
On top of reusable packaging, Avant offers grocery delivery and waste management. Avant Delivery photo.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of launching this business?
SS: I walk into lots of meetings with potential businesses to add onto our reusable packaging network, and almost every single one remarks “Wow, this makes sense, this should be everywhere”. It’s great to have such good reception to the concept, it keeps me going during the hard times that inevitably come with launching a new system into the world!