Tag Archives: Zero Waste Business

Island Java Bags, creating bags from another company’s discards

This week, Zero Waste Canada is pleased to talk with Jackie Kitzler, a “kitchen table” entrepreneur from Cowichan Valley British Columbia, about her small business, Island Java Bags. Island Java Bags is a wonderful example on how businesses can reduce waste and prosper by exchanging materials.

Small businesses can have a real positive impact on their community. Last year Jackie’s business kept 2,190 kg burlap coffee bean bags, 780 (19.5kg) foil coffee bags, 521 (240kg) retired zip line harnesses,140 malt bags and 120 (67kg) of used jeans from going to a landfill by repurposing them into new products.

Can you tell us about kind of products your business creates?

My company produce mainly bags and accessories. The full list is : purses, totes, messenger bags, 3/4 messenger bags, large bags, backpacks, coin purses, french press cozies, forever coffee sleeves, growler carriers (both coffee burlap and malt bag), foil market bags, burlap grocery bags, retired banner grocery bags, wine carriers as well as coffee soap (made from green beans in the burlap bags), coffee body scrub (made with roasted coffee seconds) as well as new products this year, burlap paper and retired zipline harness bags (used for hardware and parts on other bags right now).

Where do you sell your products?

My products are mainly sold at Farmers Markets and special events. I do the Duncan Farmers Market Spring/Summer season from April until October, then the Fall Market until Christmas, as well as the Cedar Farmers Market from Mother’s Day until end of October. I also sell online and do may special orders through my website and email.

Has your community been supportive of your business, Island Java Bags?

I believe they have, no one has done what I do in my area. The first year, it took time for people to warm up to the idea of up cycled bags. Now, my community does support me by buying my products and I have been asked to give talks about up cycling to different groups as well.

The community of businesses that sell product made from repurposed materials has been very welcoming. We all know each other and talk about what works and what does not.

How do you market your bags outside of your community?

Mainly through social media, My facebook and instagram page. I also use my website to advertise which markets we are at, and we update it through the year. I love Instagram because I can showcase my product and often I sell it right from the picture.

How long have you been operating Island Java Bags?

I started in 2011, while still trying to work a regular style job. I did every other Saturday at the Duncan Farmer’s Market. I went fulltime in 2014.

Why did you decide to start Island Java Bags?

When I was thinking about starting my own business, I wanted to do something I would love. I wanted to do something different and environmentally friendly. I am a coffee addict. I had seen what the burlap bags looked like and thought they deserved another life with the amazing art on them. I had no idea what to name my business, my son with autism was very matter of fact, We live on an Island, Java is coffee and they are bags.

What did you do before Island Java Bags?

I returned to the Island from the USA in the later part of 2009. In the USA I worked for Safeway. Here I did entry cashier style jobs. Not a real career at all, and nothing I really enjoyed either.

When you were setting up your business did you have any assistance from government programs or business mentors?

No, I did not at all. I wish I knew it was there. I did research and read as much as I could find online. I had never sewn before either! I still have those first bags to remind myself how far I have come. My first Farmers Market, I met Clare from Urchin Bags, and she gave me some invaluable advice. She is amazing.

Is it a home-based business?

Yes, it is. Douglas Magazine called me a kitchen table start up, and they were accurate. My first years, I set up a cutting table in my kitchen and my kitchen table had my sewing machine. Now, I sew in a workshop not in the house. It is nice to have room to spread out and see what I am doing.

What skills have you learned from operating your small business?

I have learned skills for social media and marketing. I have learned selling skills because I do face to face selling at the Farmers Markets. I have learned spreadsheets and how to do pricing. I have learned to set up a website and Etsy store. I think it is hard to tell all the small skills you learn when you are a one woman show.

How did you decide to use burlap coffee bags as a material and how were you able to find a supply?

I had seen empty coffee bag hanging in coffee shops as wallpaper. The artistic designs are so well made, they deserve another life. Looking at the burlap as a material, some is not suitable because it is too loose of a weave or too thick and will just splinter and break when it is folded. I did research and found we do not compost the bags on the Island that they are just sent to the landfill. That was the final straw in the choice as burlap for a raw materials to make the bags. At first, my boyfriend (now husband), was travelling between the Island and Portland very month as we were getting him ready to retire, he would bring me bags from Portland. Eventually, I began to find coffee roasters up here. I started with Oughtred, then Peaks, Fernwood Coffee Roasters and DrumRoaster. Now, I have roasters contact me about taking bags.

You have a special working relationship with Oughtred Coffee that benefits you both, can you tell us how that has developed?

The story of how Oughtred and I connected is very interesting. I decided to start making the burlap bags and knew I needed a reliable source on the Island for them. I went on Crag’s List to see if I could find any. Lo and behold, there was an advertisement for burlap bags, as many as a person could take. I contacted the writer and it was Jill Doucette of Synergy Enterprises who had Oughtred Coffee&Tea as a client. She was trying to work on their landfill stream and was working on redirecting the burlap. She and I met in 2011 and never looked back. I started getting 30-50 bags at a time and now I take an entire pallet (approx. 250 bags). I met Johnny Oughtred at the kick off party for Synergy and he has been nothing but supportive.

Synergy Enterprises has a non-profit branch called Synergy Sustainability Institute and they facilitated an up cycling work group. In that group we were a kind of think tank to help each other with issues, like sourcing or even product names. I was challenged in that work group to find a way to start using reclaimed coffee foil bags (2and 5lb) that Oughtred had. I created a market bag that uses 9 bag each. The Spring/start of Summer of 2014, Oughtred was taking applications for a Green Grant. They wanted to have green businesses with their bottlenecks for production (in my case). I wrote a proposal for an industrial sewing machine and how one would change my business, making me more productive, so ultimately using more burlap/foil. I did win one of the grants and still use that machine to this day.

It is hard to touch on all the parts of my relationship with Oughtred, they are a large part of my story and I am a small part of theirs.

Have you developed any other similar arrangements with other companies?

I use many different raw materials that would normally be headed for the landfilll to make my bags. I use the reclaimed coffee foil to make market bags (I am working on a local initiative with coffee hops to pick up their coffee foil instead of it going to the landfill), they had roasted coffee in them so they smell so good! I get all the zipline harnesses that are retired from Wildplay Elements Park, I take them apart and use the hardware on my bags, the strapping on my growler carriers for handles, strapping on my backpacks and I am hoping to start making them into purses (if I can afford another industrial machine). I use second hand buttons, second hand material for pockets. I have made bags out of retired street banners. For breweries, I take their malt bags and make single and double growler carriers. I use second hand jeans, and leather for bag bottoms. I am also hoping to start mixing in bike inner tubes with the other materials, if I get another industrial machine.

What other materials are you using in your bags?

I work with other roasters to keep their burlap from the landfill, but not on the scale I have with Oughtred. Peaks coffee, is roasted locally and I get a call to take their bags several times a year. I have recently started working with Drumroaster coffee, they also call me when they have a pile of bags they want to send my way. When I visit Victoria, I pass by Fernwood Coffee Roasters and see if they have any out. I am always open to relationships with coffee roasters.

What do you do with the scraps for cutting bags?

My burlap scraps are all saved. I have a scrap hierarchy. I begin with the burlap sack, I make a bag, then hopefully a growler carrier or wine bag, then comes a French press cozier, and finally a forever coffee sleeve. Any scrap is then collected and put in a burlap bag I cannot use for some reason (too loose of a weave or cut wrong etc.). Once a bag is full, I have a list of farms that will use the scrap for mulch or in the compost or for smoking bees (food grade so it does not hurt the bees). My fabric ha the same type of use, bag to carrier to cozier to sleeve. I save pieces for pockets or stuffing for burlap sensory pillows. The actual waste is less than one plastic grocery bag a month.

Many people have unique employment challenges and certainly caregivers can have difficulties with rigid hours, do you think that people of all abilities can create opportunities from using discards as resources?

I encourage anyone to think outside of the box and look at waste materials as a resource. There really is no limitation of then finding a steady source of material. I cannot go begging from coffee shop to coffee shop every week for bags. Do research, know trends and take that scary plunge (it may even just be a toe in the water), I encourage anyone to do this.

How have you been able to overcome any challenges that have occurred for Island Java Bags?

Challenges happen for any business. I am lucky that my husband is supportive (at first he thought I was insane) and I can bounce ideas off of him. I have also found my community or tribe amongst fellow market vendors, sustainability people and friends, who help me with issues. I also love to do research, so I will spend hours reading about other companies or upcoming trends.

What is the positive impact your business has on the environment?

This year my business has kept over 2000 kg of burlap out of the landfill (my website has the entire list). As well, I give talks to different networking groups about using waste as a resource. I have also spoken at the Coast Waste Management conference about what I do. I believe in educating the public about reporting and up cycling.

Saponetti.ca – The Future is About Refill

Saponetti.ca soap delivery 

For us the future is all about refill.

Greening our cleaning is a mandate of most of us choosing a Zero Waste lifestyle. This week, Zero Waste Canada interviews Saponetti.Ca, the soap refill delivery service in Toronto, Ontario.

Owner Nikki von Seydlitz explains how Saponentti.Ca offers both convenience and less packaging.

How did you decide to start a soap delivery service In Toronto?

Saponetti is the result of a search for a solution to our own personal conundrum about all the empty containers we were tossing into the blue bin after only a single use. With refill options in Toronto being almost non-existent we realized that were probably not alone and that a lot of people would likely refill their soap and other cleaning product containers if it were easy and convenient. This impulse was the beginning of the process that lead my husband and I to offer this service.

Can you tell us about the products you offer? Are they made in Canada?

The product lines we carry are made here in Canada by suppliers who are focused on creating products that are environmentally friendly and safe for health and home. Soaps and detergents for all your homecare needs area available fragrance-free as well as scented with essential oils and organic ingredients. Recently we added shower gel as an intro into personal care essentials and we plan to expand our inventory offering as we grow our business.

Does your company have a mandate on what products you carry?

It is important that our suppliers share our vision for a more sustainable future so in that way we are selective. The companies we work with do things differently because they are more conscious of the impact their activities have on the environment as well as their communities. We love that by working with smaller manufacturers we are able connect with the humanity behind the brand.

How do the products you offer help folks to reduce waste?

Refilling completely eliminates the cycle of plastic waste.

As a company that offers refills for cleaning and personal care do you have any challenges for standardized measurements using mason jars?

We have simplified our refill process by offering all our refill products in either 500ml & 1L mason jars so we don’t need to be concerned about matching the volume of the original product package. Refill is a type of bulk purchase which means better value for our customers.

When products come in packages is all the packaging recyclable?

Yes, all our packaging is recyclable.

As an entrepreneur launching a small company did you have a marketing strategy to find your niche?

Because we started in our local community we targeted our neighborhood first with postcards delivered door-to-door and also left in local coffee shops and retail outlets introducing our service. From there news spread via word of mouth. Everyone uses soap but our target market is essentially “millennial mom” so we are working to develop our social media strategy to connect with our customers where they hang out. Also, we are participating in local events to connect with members of our community who are already thinking like us.

Several of the small businesses Zero Waste Canada has interviewed have benefitted from small business incubators or mentorship programs, did you have any support for your start-up?

So far, we haven’t benefited from any of these programs however we are definitely doing our homework and connecting with the community networks and various programs that could be a good fit to take our business to the next level.

Who is your customer base? Have you encountered any specific demographics?

Essentially anyone who is concerned about their environmental footprint fits our customer profile however we are finding that millennials and especially millennial moms are most interested in this service.

Your company also helps businesses to “green” their cleaning, do you find that offices, restaurants and other businesses have a desire to use more earth-friendly products with less packaging?

Offices and other businesses are responding to employee and customer attitudes regarding environmental awareness. Businesses with sustainability policies in place are looking for innovative and simple ways to green their operations and refilling essentials like dish soap and hand soap not only eliminates waste but is cost effective as well.

What kind of vehicle do you use to deliver soap?

Because our clients order typically once per month or even every couple of months the volume of deliveries is still manageable enough for us to be able to use our own vehicle. At the end of this month we will be updating our Jetta wagon to a hybrid vehicle so we can minimize our emissions while making deliveries. We are also in conversation with a local eco-friendly delivery service that uses electric cars and bicycles as another way to increase our service area.

If a person fills out the on-line delivery form when will they receive delivery?

Currently we tell our clients 5-7 business days to fulfill an order but typically we respond within 3-5 days.

Do you have a regular clientele that use your service?

Happily, yes!

As a “milkman” style of delivery do you feel that have more interaction with your customers?

Definitely! When we develop new client relationships people often share how thrilled they are about the service we are offering and we get to connect with them on a more personal level allowing us to learn more about their needs and how we can develop our business to meet those needs.

What did you do before Saponetti Inc.?

My background is in interior design but recently I have been involved in commercial project with a primary focus on managing the projects LEED requirements in order to qualify for green building certification. I am actually just finishing up a project now and will be full-time with Saponetti in the next few weeks. Christian, my husband and business partner, is working as a graphic designer in an ad agency by day and dives into Saponetti business evenings and weekends. We will be ramping up our operations over the next few months and hope to be able to develop our client base so that we can both commit 100% of our time to this business.

What are your dreams for Saponetti Inc.?

We want to change the way people buy everyday household staples. Our dream is to grow Saponetti and develop delivery networks with electric vehicles across southern Ontario and beyond. For us the future is all about refill.

More and more entrepreneurs are realizing the creating Zero Waste solutions can grow business opportunity and have a positive impact. Zero Waste Canada will continue to feature the efforts of Canadians making a difference.

TEO FOODS: Teen Entrepreneurs on a Mission to Reduce Food Waste

TEO FOODS is on a mission to reduce food waste.

Over the years, Zero Waste Canada has been very privileged to share the amazing stories of youth making a difference around the world. We are excited this week to interview Lillian Chen, a young entrepreneur, from Houston Texas, who along with seven other high school students launched TEO FOODS, a subscription snack box business that promotes healthy snack foods made from made from “forgotten” or imperfect  foods.

Lillian Chen of Teo Foods

ZWC: How did your life experiences impact your decision to start Teo Foods?

Everyone has that person in their life that has been their biggest influence ever since they can remember. For me, that was my mother. Growing up, my mother was my role model and my best friend. As a child, my mother also constantly reminded me to never waste my food. I’m from a very typical Asian family that sees waste as against our customs and morals. Unfortunately, I resisted eating my vegetables, as any normal kid would, and wasted them at each meal. You want me to finish the broccoli? Yuck, no!

That was, until my mother got breast cancer when I was 9 years old. Our family completely transformed the way we ate and the way we viewed food as we began to see how important fresh, wholesome, and organic foods were to our body. After witnessing how much my mother suffered from cancer and almost losing her to this deadly disease, I wanted to live out the principles she taught me and help others obtain and be encouraged to eat healthy food.

Seeing the contradiction between my home, where waste was practically nonexistent, and restaurants, in which massive quantities of leftovers were thrown away, I began to wonder how big of an issue was food waste in all of America. Once I researched and found out that more than 150 billion pounds of food was wasted each year (that’s enough food to fill the Rose Bowl football stadium EVERY DAY), yet 1 in 5 families are starving and cannot afford healthy, organic produce due to their high costs, I became determined to do something about it. I wanted to find a way to give back to the community and to the mother I so loved who taught me the right principles to live by.

ZWC: Lillian what are the three start ups that you have worked on?

Project Intact- As of September 2014, every new car produced is mandated by the government to include a Blackbox, a device that continuously collects memory data of the car’s braking patterns, acceleration habits, etc. Project Intact provides software that analyzes this Blackbox data to assess who is at fault of a car crash. We aim to help insurance companies by solving the issue of insurance fraud, which is a $8 billion problem.

MIT Launch Entrepreneurship Program– Launch Houston is a program I founded to teach high schoolers the basic tools to start their own ventures. It’s sponsored by the MIT Launch Entrepreneurship Program. In Launch Houston, high school students in the Houston area spend the entire school year learning entrepreneurship skills, working on teams, and building their own companies from idea to future growth. Teams participate in a International Pitch Competition at MIT in May, in which they pitch their ventures in front of a panel of investors.

Loca Foods- Loca Foods is an online platform that connects local farmers to individuals, restaurants, and school cafeterias to provide them with easy, efficient access to healthy food as well as help local farmers increase their revenue and customer base.

Loca Foods also strives to provide high school students with healthier lunch meals. By connecting cafeterias with organic ingredients, Loca Foods aims to reduce the obesity rates in Houston as well as educate students on the importance of eating healthy.

ZWC: When did you launch TEO Foods?

June 25th, 2016 was the day our team formed together. TEO Foods’ website was officially launched around August 18th.

ZWC: Why did you focus on snack foods by subscription?

At first, when our team first started to tackle the issue of food waste, we explored the avenues of creating snacks from the ugly and excess foods to directly decrease food waste. After weeks of extensive research, we found companies were already doing this. We wondered why weren’t their products more well-known? Through our desire to provide these products and the awareness about food waste to more people, our solution was formed. We partner with and promote a diversified portfolio of waste-reducing companies by selling their products through our online subscription service. That way, we can attract more people to the idea of decreasing food waste, grow the repurposed food market, and indirectly cut down on this food waste issue.

Also, subscription boxes have been gaining popularity over the past few years and have seen a rapid annual growth of over 200% since 2011. We wanted to reach as much people as possible, and from our numerous surveys, we found that the overwhelming majority of people preferred delivery/methods that saved them time to buying snacks in grocery stores.

Average age- 17 years old.

ZWC: Did your business benefit from any business incubator programs or crowdfunding to help you develop or fund your business?

Yes, like I mentioned before, we benefited from the mentorship of Catapult’s incubator program. Through Catapult, we received mentorships with corporate leaders and top graduate students and access to thought-leaders in the technology, venture capital, and social entrepreneurship spaces. At the culmination of this incubator program, we pitched to 23 judges and won both the Overall Favorite & Social Impact Awards. We also received $1,000 grant and one-on-one mentorship from the venture capital firm 1517 Fund to help propel us over the next few months.

ZWC: Is social media the main tool that you use to promote your business?

As of now, social media and word of mouth/connections are our two biggest avenues for promoting our business. Since we are small and only recently launched, we are relying on friends and families, as well as connections with mentors and people in this food/health industries, to grow our sales and customer acquisition.

ZWC: Who do you see as the target market for these healthy snack foods?

Initially families, individuals aged 18-35 years old who live healthy, active, and socially/environmentally-conscious lives.

However, we want to expand our future target market to innovative & environmental corporate business/startups who can give our subscription box snacks to their employees as holiday gifts or brain food (Google gives a lot of snacks to their employees). Companies are the customers that we think we can get most of our sales from. With increased sales, we can then start to donate part of our profits to hunger-stricken families and homeless shelters to reduce the prevalence of starvation in the world.

ZWC: Did you have any difficulties finding suppliers creating snack foods from food that would have been wasted?

We did have a relatively hard time finding these suppliers. It took us a couple weeks of extensive and purposeful research to find these companies/suppliers that were repurposing ugly and excess foods into snacks. But this difficulty is one of the main reasons we were prompted to create this type of business because we wanted to make waste-reducing companies well-known and available to the general population. Forming mutually beneficial partnerships with waste reducing companies was easy though. A simple email or phone call was all we had to do. Because our missions align together and we help increase advertising and customers for these companies, they were eager to send us their products at discounted and sometimes free prices and advertise for us as well. We see each other as allies rather than enemies because we are all helping each other strive to our goal of reducing food waste.

ZWC: Are you actively looking for more product choices or are you developing your own products?

Currently, we are actively looking for more and have already found a dozen or so more that we can include in our boxes. In the future, once we achieve a larger customer base and enough profits, we are thinking to develop and manufacture our own products from ugly/excess produce to directly cut down on food waste.

ZWC: Packaging of snack foods can be problematic in terms of recyclability, does your company do anything to reduce this form of waste for consumers?

Our company seeks to use biodegradable/recyclable boxes to ship our snacks.

We encourage our partners to make their product’s packaging biodegradable/recyclable too. We are also working with them to make their packages smaller to decrease the amount of waste.

We hope to partner with an organization that makes decomposable boxes in the future or make our own decomposable boxes as well.

ZWC: Many school organizations or youth sports teams sell products to fundraise for their teams and organizations, will your boxes of healthy snack foods be marketed for this purpose?

We are hoping that our snack boxes could be marketed to these sports teams/events, school organizations, as well as in airplanes. We currently have established a collaboration with the Houston Dynamos soccer team, one of the major league soccer teams in the U.S. We are providing the soccer players with our snack boxes. Since I and one other teammate of mine are attending college this upcoming fall, we do intend to provide these products first to college environmental clubs and then to school organizations in areas near our colleges.

ZWC: What dreams do you have for TEO Foods?

On top of expansion plans that I have for Teo (mentioned in previous answers)… My dream for Teo Foods is to be the brand known for making food waste solutions easy, affordable, and appealing. I hope our site can begin to direct people to other waste-reducing products and that we can obtain commission from those companies who are getting increased traffic from us. After Teo Foods achieves greater sales and starts creating its own recovered products, I want Teo to start selling other objects to increase people’s awareness about this issue. From vegan designer clothes with powerful messages to waste-reducing kitchen technology, Teo Foods can become an online platform that provides numerous of innovative products that decrease food waste–the new “Amazon for Food Waste.” Eventually, I also see Teo Foods providing schools and colleges with talks, classes, and educational material about food waste, inspiring people at a young age to think critically about how they view, treat, and eat food and how they can further help the world.

ZWC: For you how important is it to “make a difference” while being an entrepreneur?

Making a difference is, in my opinion, what makes an entrepreneur… an entrepreneur. It’s the seed that sparks almost every entrepreneur to quit their high-paying corporate job and instead pursue something they are passionate about. Entrepreneurs see opportunities to doing good as far more valuable than monetary wealth. That’s why they are willing to risk stability and job security to do something more meaningful for this world. Making a difference, to me, is why I want to be an entrepreneur and why I wanted to start Teo Foods. This desire to “make a difference” is what I believe fuels so many entrepreneurs passions and motivates them to create a successful startup despite the arduous, long path and many failures/risks they are faced with.

ZWC: What was the biggest lesson you learned from starting this business?

-You can’t do this alone.

-A leader does not manage, a leader inspires others to become leaders as well.

-Sometimes you won’t have the perfection solution, but a solution is better than no solution. Once you hone down the problem, stick to a solution that will achieve your mission and don’t be afraid to try it. You might fail, and if so, fail fast and move on to another solution. But you never know unless you try.

-Be passionate and kind, and most of all, genuine. Good people are naturally attracted to those qualities and when they see them reflect honestly from your heart, they will want to help you too.


Teo Foods isn’t just another “snack box” company, it’s a team of motivated, passionate, and inquisitive high school students on a quest to change the world for the better. Check out more information about TEO FOODS at www.teofoods.squarespace.com. Support Lillian and the team by buying a box or sharing about Teo Foods to your followers.

Less Waste. More Taste. Go Teo!  Go Zero Waste !

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.