Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/7/2020 (207 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Usually, when a business begins, its primary concern is getting to the point of financial sustainability: once the doors open, how can we afford to keep them that way?
Sure, Marisa Loreno wouldn’t mind making some money. But the co-owner of the Refill Zerowaste Market is more concerned with a different kind of sustainability.
"I’m not going into this thinking, ‘I’m going to make money.’ I’m going into this hoping to build more resiliency within our community," she said. The market, which sells eco-friendly house and personal care products and refills of liquids like laundry detergent and shampoo in reusable containers, launched its online store in June.
While online sales have been solid over the store’s first four weeks, it wasn’t Loreno and business partner Cody Fullerton’s aim to be a digital operation, at least, not yet. In October, they signed a lease for a storefront at 634 Notre Dame Ave., and envisioned opening up to the public some time in the winter before launching an e-store further down the road.
Those plans changed.
After taking possession in January, the building experienced flooding in February, causing significant clean-up and delays. "And then a pandemic sorta happened," said Loreno. At the point that COVID-19 restrictions began, Loreno said she wasn’t comfortable buying products —20-litre jugs of shampoo, 200-litre barrels of liquid laundry detergent and dishwashing fluid — without having an opening date in sight.
In April, the owners decided to pivot to online delivery, building a new website and developing a low-emissions delivery service to deliver nearly 100 products within Winnipeg. (The owners belong to the Peg City Car Co-op, and make deliveries using a hybrid-plus vehicle one day a week).
The way the business works is that the market orders eco-friendly products in bulk from distributors (95 per cent from Canada, Loreno says) and consumers pick a volume they’d like to purchase. Customers pay a $2 deposit on a glass jar, it gets filled, and it can either be delivered or retrieved at the storefront’s pickup window. When the jar is returned, so is the deposit.
Loreno admits the concept is not one she thought of: zero-waste refill shops had already begun in most midsize to large Canadian cities — Vancouver’s Soap Dispensary started in 2011, Toronto’s Saponetti soap shop and Waterloo’s Zero Waste Bulk opened in 2016, Calgary’s Apothecary in 2017. In Winnipeg, Generation Green on Main Street offers refills on soaps and other items.
"It’s an old, new idea," she said. A recycled one, some might say.
Nonetheless, she was eager to create an accessible shop that could also help move the conversation forward on sustainability and reducing waste. In Canada, research has shown as recently as 2016 that only nine per cent of domestic plastic is recycled, with the rest sent to landfills, incinerators, or becoming litter.
Not without good reason, COVID-19 has exacerbated public reliance on non-reusable personal protective equipment. But it’s also led to worry that single-use plastics will increase, and progress that’s been made on their restriction will be undone.
The fight to reduce plastic waste is obviously far too big for the Refill Zerowaste Market to fight alone, but Loreno said she hopes people in Winnipeg are taking stock of how much they consume and waste as they’ve spent more time at home.
In the near future, Loreno’s goal is to keep making enough to cover rent, but also to be able to safely open the market to foot traffic. Once that happens, she hopes to add more local products to the store’s lineup.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.