As a consumer, going green is both very easy and very difficult. Easy because there is no shortage of “eco-friendly” products on the market. To get a quick sampling of this, simply search for “reusable straw” on Google or Amazon and see the literal scores of options that pop up.
In fact, you can do this with just about any green product these days: reusable grocery bags, bamboo fork cutlery, beeswax paper – the options are virtually limitless. Green business has become big business – consumers spent more than $8 billion on reusable water bottles in 2018, the sustainable fabric market (think bamboo fiber and organic cotton) is expected to be worth around $93 billion by 2025 and the green packaging market is set to hit $242 billion by 2021.
With so many options, how could anyone possibly struggle to go sustainable with their shopping habits?
Well, according to some experts, the proliferation of products is not actually a solution to the problem, so much as its latest expansion. As one snarky Redditor pointed out on the r/ZeroWaste thread, in response to a poster showing off the bag they had sewed for their brand-new bamboo cutlery: “See that’s nice. You didn’t miss the whole point and buy fancy new bamboo cutlery when you already had metal stuff at home that would work perfectly well.”
Anne-Marie Bonneau, best known online in her capacity as the “Zero-Waste Chef,” is a bit less edgy in her response, but makes a similar point. However well-intentioned, zero waste runs the risk of becoming just another consumer lifestyle instead of a commitment to actually fighting waste. Buying new, she noted, is often wasteful.
It’s an issue that Genevieve Livingston, founder of the Seattle zero-waste store Eco Collective, has thought a lot about. Her shop specializes in selling customers the goods they need to go green.
The shop started out as a 10×10 stand in a local public market in 2017. By 2018, it had made the jump to a permanent brick-and-mortar location in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Inside, one will find the array of goods that are now familiar to zero-waste shoppers, such as household implements made of bamboo and glass jars. Consumers can even opt in for a Zero-Waste Starter Kit.
But, Livingston noted, the goal of the shop isn’t just to close the sale: Eco Collective isn’t interested in being just another brand that encourages over-consumption under the guise of clean living. In fact, she noted, they often direct shoppers to secondhand shops to buy common items.
Moreover, she told PYMNTS, the shop isn’t just about offering up green goods for sale – it is also about teaching consumers how and when to use them. Consumers can also pay for classes to learn about how to best get started in changing their lifestyle.
Plus, they give out a lot of advice for free.
“Something we tell people when they’re first starting out is don’t confuse plastic-free with zero waste,” Livingston said. “Like if you have all plastic hangers, you shouldn’t go out and buy all wood ones. But if you need a few more … then make the responsible choice.”
Consumers, she noted, often need advice on how to live better, not just marketing pitches for new materials. Those looking to jump into the world of green retail, Livingston continued, need to think not only about the merchandise they sell, but also the experience they create around the purchases. Going green can be connected to commercial activity without being a wholly commercial enterprise.
“And I think if you talk to green merchants, you’ll find the ones that really mean it understand that distinction,” Livingston said.