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The D.C. Metro area is now the latest region to welcome a “zero-waste” store. Mason & Greens in Alexandria, VA sells toiletries, groceries, and more, all without any disposable packaging. Many similar stores have opened up across the country, and are making it easier for more people to reduce and even eliminate their plastic footprint.
And while zero-waste stores have become trendy, Instagram-worthy destinations, as Eater wrote last fall,“more and more mainstream grocery stores are turning to good old bulk bins — an age-old staple of the hippie co-op — to help shoppers cut their waste. And it’s about time.”
Why This Matters: Every day, the average American throws out about five pounds of trash, 12% of which is plastic. Even when people make the effort to separate their plastic waste, experts estimate that 91% of that waste never actually gets recycled, and ends up in landfills or incinerators, polluting the environment and sending microplastics into the air and food chain. However, the broken-by-design recycling system is only one of the many reasons plastic pollution continues to grow.
The most recent increase in plastic pollution has been a symptom of the Coronavirus. The pandemic instilled a distrust of shared and reusable items, leading average citizens to consume more single-use plastics. Additionally, plastic PPE supplies used by healthcare professionals like gloves and masks have been discarded by the billions since the beginning of 2020.
Like a Kid in a Candy Shop
At Mason & Greens, customers can bring reusable containers to purchase things like beans, spices, liquid soap, and even pinot noir in the quantities they need. Other products are sold with compostable packaging. Daniela Ochoa González, a D.C. resident and founder of an environmental consulting firm, is excited not only for the opportunity to reduce her footprint but the opportunity to teach her children more about sustainability, “It’s like a little school lab,” she said. “They can actually see what a grain looks like, quinoa looks like, what flour looks like.”
Not only are customers reducing their plastic footprint, but the store is as well. Mason & Greens, which has 7 employees and is open 7 days a week, produces only one trash bag of waste every two weeks.
Is Sustainability Sustainable?
One major concern is the accessibility and affordability of stores like Mason & Greens. One major advantage of single-use plastics is that they have become extremely affordable and widely available. Justin and Anna Marino, the owners of Mason & Greens acknowledge that, while they offer competitive prices, their business model doesn’t work for everyone just yet. “You cannot make any progress with environmental issues if it’s not economical,” said Justin. Those concerns, however, may be alleviated by growing mainstream support for zero-waste living.
Major companies like Unilever have pledged to halve the use of virgin plastics by 2025, and retailers like Walmart, Target, and CVS have invested time and effort into developing new alternatives to the plastic bag. Some new companies are even bringing back the old-fashioned milkman, running circular delivery services where people can return their containers for reuse.
Ultimately store owners like the Marinos want to expose people to more convenient and sustainable ways of living. “I think what we’re doing here in Old Town is that we’re actually opening up people to this new way of life,” said Anna.
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