More and more consumers are realizing to achieve their Zero Waste lifestyle goals they need to change their methods of shopping. The demand for less packaging of materials, less plastic, more local products and less food waste is growing.
This week, Zero Waste Canada interviews Crystal Lehky, the owner of Green, Canada’s first Zero Waste Grocery.
Green, located on Salt Spring Island B.C., has recently opened in June for business. The grocery store offers a one-stop shopping experience where shoppers can eliminate packaging by purchasing products from bulk-style bins, using their own jars, bags, containers or baskets. The store offers a choice of over 300 products that are locally sourced, non-GMO, organic, natural or low-spray, with local products and producers from Salt Spring Island, the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island featured. Green’s selection includes dairy products, fresh produce, eggs, pastas, herbs, cleaning and personal care products.
There were two reasons. First, I think that Salt Spring people are open and ready for this business model. They really care about the environment, and also about where their food is coming from. I’m not saying that everyone everywhere doesn’t, I just think that if anyone is going to be early adopters of the concept, it’s people for whom recycling is a challenge (because it really is on this island). They also really care about local food and products, and there are tons of things being grown and made on Salt Spring. People who don’t live here may not realize this, but it’s a farming community first and foremost. The second reason was that I knew I’d have to live where I started my first store, and Salt Spring is a place I have always wanted to live. It turned out to be a good choice. Starting a business is so stressful, but it has been really hard to be stressed out on Salt Spring, it’s so relaxed.
We do have an excellent selection of cotton drawstring bags and lovely jars for folks to buy and fill up with delicious whole foods. However, I don’t think you need to go out and buy a bunch of things to start living zero waste. You probably already have a ton of jars and plastic containers lying around your house – probably tons. We would prefer that people bring their own containers and reuse what they already have instead of adding more ‘things’ to the environment. It’s mostly about making good decisions in the stores you visit. Most foods are packaged in plastic and you just have to learn to say no. We offer the same products with no plastic, and I feel that’s the main way we are helping folks do zero waste. We do carry a great beeswax food wrap product that eliminates the need for saran wrap and plastic baggies- that’s kind of a game changer in my opinion.
Yes we have several products that have some paper type packaging on them. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Dairy products need to be labelled by law, so they need that packaging. We knew this was going to be an issue early on, and worked hard to try to find a solution so we could really call ourselves zero waste. The solution was a worm farm. A pound of worms can eat up to half a pound a day in paper scraps and vegetable waste (50/50 mix) per day. We got a worm farm and sure enough they love eating the paper! So we encourage our customers to bring back the paper on any products we carry and we will feed it to the worms. It really helps with office paper waste and debit card receipts people leave behind as well. Between our home and the bit of vegetable waste from the store, we keep them fed very nicely. They seem like very happy worms.
We are always trying to help our suppliers find alternate ways to package their products that would be better for the environment. We do this by sharing information on what other suppliers are doing to cut down waste. Honestly most of our suppliers are constantly looking for a better way to do business, and we appreciate that about them. We really have the best suppliers on the planet. In order to create this green supply chain though, it was necessary to cut out the distributers altogether and go directly to the source. Distributors have no power to change the way shipping happens. For some of our suppliers they just made a small change, and you know what, any change is awesome. Ship us things in reused boxes that I will reuse and then repurpose on a farm! That’s using the item three extra times, so no waste in that. One customer is using vegetable cellophane instead of plastic now. It’s amazing what people are interested in doing, and spending money on, if only the demand arises. I spend a lot of my day speaking with new suppliers and trying to find a way to get the products my customers want in a zero waste way. I’m very close on about six products right now but some will be a huge challenge. The bigger the company the more difficult the change is the trend I see. For that reason we work with a lot of small companies that are more open to change and don’t have active policies that work against being more green.
Well the worm farm really helps to take care of any waste we do accumulate. That takes care of any paper and vegetable scrap problems, and we don’t have any plastic garbage for the most part. What we do have gets reused as much as it can, and then recycled. We do have a lot of cardboard that comes in shipments. We have dealt with this cardboard in a bunch of ways, but a few of them are really cool. We have a Salt Spring resident that was building a path through is forest and mulching cardboard as the base for the path. That took up a ton of cardboard and is fantastic reuse of material. Our cardboard can also be used in goat pens to create a ‘floor’ that works better for goat health. Honestly I’m not sure how that one works, but they come and get the cardboard pretty regularly. We have also given some of our larger boxes to local children for fort building. We’ve had a great time watching where our ‘waste’ ends up being reused instead of recycled.
We work with the local food bank to make sure that nothing here goes to waste. They have been wonderful in taking things off our hands that we really don’t want to throw out but can’t have displayed in the store anymore.
I have done many things on my journey to this goal, but only a few are pertinent. I was a manager at a large grocery chain and I started another company as well, that is still in operation but I no longer manage the day to day operations. For the last several years I was really just trying to figure out where my passion was leading me. I had this amazing idea last year but I really didn’t know where to start. Having a husband who has unconditional confidence in my abilities really helped. When you have enough passion for something it’s easy to see the obstacles as opportunities for learning. I get a lot of ‘opportunities for learning’ with this business, but I love a challenge. I love that people said this couldn’t be done, and now here it is up and running and doing great.
Crystal Lehky describes herself as an environmental crusader and a Canadian grocer, Zero Waste Canada is proud to introduce you to the new breed of Canadian entrepreneurs helping us achieve Zero Waste.
Green is located at 110-150 Fulford Granges Rd., Salt Spring Island, BC V9L 2T9. Telephone: 778-256-2437, Proprietor, Crystal Lehky, firstname.lastname@example.org. Hours: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily.