Imagine going shopping and coming home with everything you need to cook your meals and clean up afterwards all without generating any waste or having any packaging to toss in the trash or blue bin. While that might sound like an environmentalist’s fantasy, a real Zero Waste Market is in the works and will open in Vancouver later this year.
Vancouver’s Zero Waste Market is the endeavour of Marine Biologist Brianne Miller. The Ontario native has been working in Vancouver for the past two-and-a-half years, and, combined with her prior work in the waters of the world, she became increasingly aware of the relationship between marine pollution and our food systems.
Speaking to Vancity Buzz via telephone, Miller describes working in the waters off Maui and stopping to pick up tremendous amounts of debris, from fishing lines to plastic bags, as well as performing necropsies on marine animals whose lives were cut short by plastic in the water. Even in her work in remote locations from Indonesia to Haida Gwaii, where humans are scarce, Miller says the amount of plastic debris in the water was rampant.
Fueled additionally by her work studying how the noise produced by the marine shipping industry impacts the lives of whales, Miller sees an undeniable link between marine habitat degradation and the way we produce and ship our food around the world.
“Most of the problems our oceans face are somehow linked to our food systems,” Miller points out.
The Zero Waste Market concept, explains Miller, was “born out of [her] idea to do something tangible about pollution.”
“I think a lot of people don’t realize making a lot of small actions in their everyday lives really adds up,” notes Miller. Those small actions can be as simple as bringing our own bags to the store–a practice normalized in many progressive cities thanks to plastic bag bans–or being able to shop in bulk in reusable containers.
The Zero Waste Market will bee 100% package-free, and will feature fresh produce, dry goods, and liquids (from shampoo to olive oil), and customers will be able to fill up with as much product as they need in their own containers. The caveat, says Miller, who is working closely with Vancouver Coastal Health to ensure the store will meet health and safety codes, is that the container must be clean, but otherwise it can be anything from a zip-top plastic bag, mason jar, or yogurt container, for example.
Customers who don’t have containers with them will be able to “rent” ones from the Market; Miller is working on developing a deposit program for such vessels. A little tricker will be dairy and meat, however, and Miller says they may not be able to stock and sell those items to start, so customers who are vegan or vegetarian will have an easier time meeting all their grocery needs at the Zero Waste Market.
Excess stock, as in food set to expire, will be donated to community organizations. Miller says they are working to forge partnerships with local groups in order to ensure none of their inventory is wasted.
Miller says she and her expanding team are working closely on both the consumer and the supplier side of the business. Suppliers are already on board who will provide the Market with product in containers the store can simply return to them for re-use, for example. For the consumer, that means education, including being able to visit the market to take part in workshops that can teach them how to make compost, how to cook with leftovers, or how to make their own toiletries.
Currently scouting for an appropriate location, Miller’s Zero Waste Market will end up being in the ballpark of about 1500 square feet, and in a transit, bike, and pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.
Miller and the Zero Waste Market crew have been testing out their model through monthly pop-up events, which they will continue to do in the coming months. (They post event info to their website and social media pages.)
For Miller, the time for a Zero Waste Market is now, and Vancouver is the perfect place.
“Vancouver really touts itself as being one of the greenest cities in the world, and that’s one of the main reasons why we are opening up the store here,” she explains. “We definitely think this is a great place to do it and that people living here are really receptive.”