At the beginning, people told Crystal Lehky that she couldn’t make a zero waste grocery store work and that it would never open. But green—her zero waste, low impact grocery store—is open.
That says a lot about Salt Spring islanders. These supporters are on the leading edge of solving a world issue with consumer- and retail-led change. And many of those same people were on the cutting edge of the organic movement 20 years ago. Change begins somewhere.
But the supply chain isn’t as ready. Ninety percent of Crystal’s calls end with suppliers saying, “What, are you nuts? Why would I change the way I do things?”
Since green opened as Canada’s first zero waste grocery store in June 2016, another store opened in Montreal, and another is opening in Vancouver this fall. But Europe has been doing this for 10 years. Some call it a trend; others say it is the future.
And many say it’s long overdue. In 2013, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating landfill that destroys marine ecosystems and populations, was estimated to be larger than Texas.
More stores—and more people supporting these stores—are what’s needed to encourage suppliers to get on board the zero waste, low impact grocery movement.
But what exactly does zero waste mean? According to Crystal, “For us, zero waste means that we’re receiving products and getting them back to our customers without sending anything to the landfill.”
And recyclables? Crystal avoids them. Recycling is energy intensive. She cited the 5 Rs: refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle, and rot. She asks, “What if we just refuse and stop it right there? Then we don’t have the rest of the problem.”
And what does low impact mean? As local as possible. Bulk grains, legumes, and flours have all been grown in Canada. Only coffee, nuts, and chocolate are from outside of Canada, but they’ve been processed from the whole bean within 100 km or so of Salt Spring Island.
Who is green grocery store for?
- If zero waste groceries aren’t available to everyone and are only for the elite, then Crystal said she’s not doing her job properly.
- It’s for meat eaters, vegans, vegetarians, and locavores. So far, green carries only jerky, but it has just received approval to carry paper-wrapped frozen meat.
- It’s for people who cook from scratch. TVP—textured vegetable protein—and trail mix are the most processed foods it sells.
As the only retail store selling Salt Spring Island Kombucha on tap, green sells it fast! Yogurt in re-usable glass containers and tooth powder are also popular. All of green’s produce is “Salt Spring organic”―low spray, no spray―or is certified organic. And green carries the only Canadian-made toilet paper without plastic packaging!
According to Crystal, “We’ve become a plastic nation. Single-use plastic is just too easy ... but here on Salt Spring, people really do care.”