The need for low-waste items develops as our knowledge of how much plastic we waste develops, particularly in the form of plastic-free establishments like Precycle in Brooklyn. The internet is loaded with videos and stories about individuals who have embarked on a low-waste or waste-free trip in the hopes of reducing the amount of rubbish that ends up in landfills or adding to the garbage islands that dot the ocean.
Some fantastic low-waste alternatives, such as reusable straws, cloth face wipes, and diapers, can be washed rather than thrown away. However, changes might be deceiving, such as the transition from plastic to cloth bags, which has shown to be less sustainable than initially anticipated.
Aside from the lack of knowledge, being package-free might be a significant financial expenditure for some families. Families and people with discretionary money are more likely to pay the hundreds of dollars required to make the transition from affordable to reusable. On the internet, there’s a lot of discussion about whether inclusion and cost-consciousness can be part of becoming package-free in the long run.
Maranda Miller is the founder of EcoBronx, a waste-free popup shop in the borough that serves various populations she believes are typically left out of mainstream environmental discussions. She knows firsthand how important it is to take an intersectional approach to package-free stores for them to be available to people of all socioeconomic levels—something that became even more clear after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Miller drives more than an hour from her Fordham Road home to find waste-free establishments that provide bulk cleaning supplies. When the epidemic shut down the city last spring, she was unable to do so.
“Once a month, I’d go [shopping], it was like our family adventure vacation… Because there is virtually nothing here in the Bronx right now, I would stock up for a month,” Miller stated. And although these forays into discovering low-packaging, low-waste, and bulk products saved her family money in the long run, they also necessitated free time and the ability to move a month’s worth of goods, food, and cleaning products.
This motivated her to look for the cheapest internet store and popup stores at farmers’ markets.
“I want to choose items that are inexpensive,” she explained. “I don’t want accessibility costs to be a deterrent for anyone.”
Other shops that promote waste-free living are striving to be more inclusive. Package Free Shop in New York City has more aspirational items in its inventory, such as $12 metal tongue scrapers and lunch bags. However, the shop’s website emphasizes its aims for lower price points while retaining the products’ quality. Customers who cannot always afford to pay their entire amount in one go can use the shop’s payment plan.
Earth and Me, a Queens-based shop, collaborate with mutual assistance funds, small enterprises, and organizations to guarantee that environmental justice is addressed. Customers may donate plants to encourage others to grow them for free, check out a free climate library of repurposed books, and receive discounts for returning candle jars to be reused by local candle manufacturer Astoria Candle, among other things.
A Canadian couple started their zero-waste adventure a few years ago and had to shop at various locations to keep up with their new way of living. They opened Zero Waste Emporium, a waste-free emporium that sells refillable home goods, foods, and personal care items.
One of the proprietors commented, “Everything we bring into the store, we price check with the three big grocery shops in town, and we always match their pricing or quite usually advertise a bit cheaper to ensure that anyone could come in.”
In addition to the standard paper shopping bag, the shop offers a “take a jar, leave a jar” method for customers who do not own reusable containers but cannot always afford to purchase them. The pair encourages customers to leave excess recyclable containers at the store so that the next consumer may use them after a thorough sanitization.
Package-free retailers, according to Miller, maybe inclusive through knowing community needs and marketing inclusively. A brick-and-mortar in a prominent location would be excellent for quick access for many neighborhoods of the Bronx, which are frequently made up of working-class people of color who have experienced years of environmental racism and neglect.
She explained, “The more consumers I acquire, the more I can start cutting expenses a little bit further.” She plans to develop a pay it forward scheme in the future, in which consumers contribute a few extra dollars to another customer’s purchase.
In the end, Miller realizes that finding a means to become mobile will allow her to reach even more individuals who are unable to go outside of the Bronx due to physical or financial constraints and inspire more families to make the transition to a low-waste lifestyle.
“I didn’t see many individuals of color when I first started this road… but now there are loads of influencers out there doing it well,” she added. “With EcoBronx, I wish to highlight that inclusivity.”