Editor's note: As of June 2016, Green on Salt Spring Island is Canada's first permanent zero-waste market. The headline for this article has been amended to acknowledge this opening.
“The idea itself is definitely something that isn’t new,” says store co-founder Brianne Miller in a phone interview with the Straight. “We always think it’s kind of funny because people are like, ‘This is such a great idea!’ But this is how our grandparents shopped 100 years ago. So, we’ve kind of come so far from that.”
Miller, a marine biologist by trade, decided to pursue the ecofriendly concept after observing first-hand the impact of climate change and pollution on the habitats of marine animals. Drawing inspiration from a number of successful zero-waste stores that operate internationally, she developed Zero Waste Market for Vancouver.
“It’s disheartening to see,” she says of the pollution, “and I kind of came to the realization that I wanted to do something tangible to help solve that problem.”
Miller presented the idea when she participated in a small business incubator program at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business in 2015, and after enlisting the help of co-founder Paula Amiama, began hosting a series of monthly pop-up shops in Kitsilano last October.
“It’s kind of blown our minds how good the reaction has been,” says Miller. “Every time we do the pop-up now, we’re regularly seeing hundreds of people everyday.”
The Zero Waste Market pop-up offers a range of locally and ethically sourced products, including coffee beans, honey, soap, and dry goods like granola, nuts, and seeds. All products are offered in bulk and customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags or containers in order to stock up.
The pop-up also offers a selection of “ugly” produce, like apples and root vegetables, which Miller obtains by working with local farmers and suppliers. Furthering her commitment to reducing food waste and plastic pollution, she has the products delivered in reusable vessels whenever possible.
“We’re kind of working on both ends,” she explains, “educating customers about how their choices affect the environment downstream and then working with suppliers to start creating demand for those products that wouldn’t be used otherwise.”
Zero Waste Market will expand its packaging-free concept to a 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot standalone store this fall. Miller hopes to stock between 300 and 400 different products, including meat, cheese, yogurt, and edible liquids like syrups, oils, and vinegars, plus a wide variety of homegrown brands.
Currently, Zero Waste’s price points range from 45-cents for 100-grams of Canadian whole wheat to $5 for 100-grams of fair-trade Denman Island Chocolate. In terms of seasonal produce, local apples are $5.50 and beets are $8.50 for one-kilogram each.
“This is one of our main goals,” Miller stresses. “We’re trying to make our products as accessible and affordable as possible compared to similar products.”
A location is yet to be determined for Zero Waste Market, though Miller reveals that she is looking at spots in Kitsilano, Olympic Village, and the area that straddles Gastown and Strathcona.
Zero Waste Market is hosting its sixth pop-up shop at Patagonia Vancouver (1944 West 4th Avenue) this Tuesday (March 22) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information about the pop-up, or to RSVP, click here.