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Canada’s first Zero Waste grocery store

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.

Crystal Lehky and Kevin Feisel are Canada’s new breed of Zero Waste grocers

ZWC: What was the motivation to open a Zero Waste grocery store on Salt Spring Island?

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.

ZWC: What will you be stocking to assist individuals with a Zero Waste lifestyle.

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.

ZWC: Will any of the products you sell be in packaging? If so will your customers be able to recycle or compost this packaging?

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.

ZWC: On your website you spoke about researching and working with suppliers to have reusable or recyclable shipping materials, how difficult was it to create a greener supply chain?

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.

ZWC: How will you be minimizing waste at your store?

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.

ZWC: How will you reduce food waste?

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.

ZWC: What did you do before opening the grocery store?

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, crystal@greenssi.ca.  Hours: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily.

Nature’s composters – worms

Earthworms are nature’s digesters. Aristotle said earthworms were the soils entrails. Charles Darwin surmised that most all of the fertile soil on earth must have passed through the gut of an earthworm.

Worm Biology

Instead of teeth, earthworms have a gizzard like a chicken that grinds the soil and organic matter that they consume. They eat the soil microorganisms that live in and on the soil and organic matter.

Worm excrement is commonly called worm casts or castings. These soil clusters are glued together when excreted by the earthworm and are quite resistant to erosive forces. Their castings contain many more microorganisms than their food sources because their intestines inoculate the casts with microorganisms.

Worms and Soil

Earthworms are part of a host of organisms that decompose organic matter in the soil. As earthworms digest the microorganisms and organic matter in soil, the form of nutrients is changed as materials pass through the earthworm’s gut. Thus, worm casts are richer than the surrounding soil, containing nutrients changed into forms that are more available to plants. For example, one study found that in a sample of soil with 4% organic matter, worm casts contained 246 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet while the surrounding soil contained 161 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet (Source: ATTRA, Sustainable Soil Systems)

By increasing the organic matter content, soil porosity and aggregation, earthworms can greatly increase the water-holding capacity of soils.

Earth worms are nature’s digesters. Aristotle said earth worms were the soils entrails. Charles Darwin surmised that most all of the fertile soil on earth must have passed through the gut of an earthworm.

Vermicomposting or Worm Composting

With very little investment you can put earthworms to work turning kitchen scraps into nature’s best fertilizer for your garden.

You can compost with worms indoors or out; it’s perfect for apartment and house dwellers or at the office.

All you have to do is put some red wiggler worms (not local earth worms) into a bin with some moist bedding. Then add your food scraps (like apple cores and vegetable peelings). The worms will eat the scraps and produce great compost for your house plants, garden or flowerbeds.

The worms work quickly at temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius, consuming up to half their body weight in food each day.  They won’t survive freezing temperatures, so you will have to bring them indoors during winter.

Mary Appelhof, author of “Worms Eat My Garbage” recommends two pounds of worms — about 2,000 wigglers — for every pound per day of food waste. To figure out how much food waste your household generates, monitor it for a week and divide by seven. Other vermiculture experts advise starting out with a smaller amount of worms and reducing the amount of food scraps you compost until worm population grows. Worms can double their populations every 90 days.

The Bin

You can purchase a worm bin or make one. Whether you choose a plastic, wooden or glass container to use as a worm bin is a matter of personal preference based primarily on what is available. The size of your bin depends on how much food you’ll be adding. A bin should have about one square foot of surface area for each ½ kilogram (1 pound) of food added each week.

You can make your own worm bin by repurposing a “Rubbermaid®” type tub and turn it into a composting bin.

The Bedding

Proper bedding is important to maintain your worms’ health. Shredded newspaper, potting soil (without chemicals), straw, fall leaves or a combination of these will be fine.

Fill your bin almost to the top with loose bedding then sprinkle water on it until it’s as wet as a wrung out sponge. It should form a mud ball when a handful is squeezed.

Feeding Worms

Feed your worms food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, pulverized egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds. Avoid meat scraps, bones, fish, leftover dairy products and oily foods since these will make your compost pile smell as well as attract flies and rodents. Experts are divided on whether pasta and grains should be tossed into the compost or thrown away in regular garbage. Your best bet is to experiment and let your worms tell you what they’ll eat or won’t eat.

Bury your scraps into a different part of the bedding each week to evenly distribute the food for the worms and to discourage flies. The smaller you cut the scraps, the faster they will disappear.

Harvesting

After 3 to 6 months, the worms will have digested not just your food, but their bedding as well. What is left over is called Vermicompost and it is an excellent additive to your house plants or flower beds. There are several ways to harvest worm compost.

Trouble Shooting

Fruit Flies

One of the most common problems with bins are fruit flies. Fortunately, they don’t bite and they’re easy to deal with.

  • Chop banana peels.
  • Keep scraps covered with a few inches of bedding or castings.
  • Freeze scraps overnight before adding them to the bin.

Fungus Gnats

The other small flying insect which can invade your bin is more bothersome because it can also survive in your house plants.   An added challenge is that whatever you do to kill these pests may kill many of your beneficial decomposers.  Isolate your bin and harvest.

Other Creatures

Many other small creatures may share your bin with the worms. Most of them are helpful and rarely cause problems. Only centipedes, which will eat your worms, pose any threat to your bin.

Odours

If your bin smells bad, it probably has too much food, water, or the wrong types of food inside. To eliminate odours, remove excess or inappropriate food and add fresh bedding. You might also leave the lid off to allow for evaporation.

A cautionary tale

Invasive Alien Species and Forests: If you live in the eastern half of Canada, every earthworm you have ever seen in your garden is technically an invasive alien species. Although there are over 100 species of native North American worms, they’re only indigenous to “un-glaciated” areas such as the Pacific Northwest (British Colombia’s hemlock forests, for instance). Elsewhere on the continent, earthworms were killed off during the last “Ice Age” (the Wisconsin Glacial Episode), and for the past 11,000 years, our northern forests have evolved without them. There are now over 15 species of Eurasian worms burrowing their way through our Canadian soil.

The problem is while our gardens benefit from the swift conversion of organic material, forest run on a slower timeline. Earthworms gorge on forest floor’s rich leaf litter, leaving the underlying mineral subsoil exposed, and effectively wiping out tree seedlings, and ferns who suddenly find themselves without root zone.The most dramatic destruction of habitat has been seen in the hardwood forests of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.

We can help this problem from spreading further. Individuals fishing can stop dumping leftover earthworm bait and gardeners living near forested areas can flash-freeze finished compost for one week before spreading it.  Gardeners can stop dumping green waste in forests.

Cleopatra is said to have made a royal decree that the removal of earthworms from Egypt was punishable by death for fear of offending the god of fertility.