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As More Products Are Made for Single People, a Waste Conundrum Emerges

Living alone is increasingly common. In 2018, 28% of U.S. households were home to just one person, according to the Census Bureau. That’s more than double the proportion of single-person residences in 1960, when the nuclear family peaked.

For several years now, businesses in the real estate, home improvement, and jewelry sectors have been marketing to this growing solo demo. Enter the consumer packaged-goods industry.

Procter & Gamble’s Charmin brand, for example, is capitalizing on this paradigm shift with its newly marketed long-lasting Forever Roll of toilet paper—available in 8.7- or 12-inch diameter. The idea is to free up storage space, a concept that caters to single dwellers because they’re especially concentrated in dense urban areas.

Other products for singles aim to minimize food waste. Bread brand Arnold now sells 10-slice Simply Small loaves for consumers who can’t bear to throw away moldy slices—or freeze bread for later use. Other examples: Jimmy Dean Simple Scrambles breakfast cups and Betty Crocker Mug Treats microwaveable desserts for one.

A common thread here is the idea that millennials exhibit “a lack of wanting to commit to anything in general,” says Mintel senior trend analyst Diana Kelter. “Maybe they don’t know whether they’re going to go out to eat or end up cooking.” They aren’t tied down to what’s on their calendars, or in their cabinets and closets. See also: retailers offering clothing rentals and beauty brands embracing trial sizes.

One problem: Packaging waste from individually wrapped products quickly mounts. Now brands face a new challenge: how to bundle essentials in a way that’s good for pocketbooks, the planet, and spontaneous schedules.

A version of this article appears in the July 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Small Loaves and Forever Rolls.”

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