The Zero Heroes
Meet the new crop of zero-waste shop owners in South Africa and find out what motivates them to embrace living an eco-conscious life.
There’s something very soothing about shopping at a zero-waste store. Apart from the obvious lack of plastic, what’s also missing are the bright colours on the packaging that shriek “buy me” and “I’m better than all the rest”. Instead, large glass jars quietly say: “You want oats/lentils/almonds? Here they are”. No shrieking required.
In 2017 Bea Johnson, the founder of Zero Waste Home and the author of the book by the same name, toured South Africa, spreading the zero-waste word to an eager eco-conscious audience.
Since Johnson’s tour the idea of BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) zero-waste shopping has grown in popularity in South Africa.
I retraced Johnson’s route, starting in Cape Town, and caught up with the owners of the crop of zero-waste shops that have sprung up in SA since her tour.
Paul Rubin opened NUDE FOODS in the East City in December 2017 and in August 2018 NUDE FOODS opened its second store, housed in an upcycled shipping container at the Montebello Centre in Newlands.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop? My background is in business and marketing and my MBA dissertation was on “social enterprise as a sustainable business model for all businesses of the future – ie equally prioritising profit and positive social impact”. It took me a further 10 years to formulate a business idea that fitted both this model and my personal passion for health, wellness, wholefoods and clean living.
I am passionate about clean ingredients and real wholefoods as well as living chemical-free regarding the products we use on our bodies and in our homes. I was also becoming increasingly despondent that a store like NUDE FOODS didn’t exist in Cape Town or South Africa, and that an alternative option wasn’t available to shop more mindfully and plastic-free. So, with no food, retail or grocery experience, I decided to open my idea of a dream store.
Paul’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Go vegan as soon as possible. No other single action will have as big a positive impact on you and the planet.
- Simplify your life as far as possible. Only consume what you need, be mindful around waste.
- Carry reusables wherever you go. Water bottle, coffee cup, lunch box, reusable cutlery, dry goods bags….
Former Grade 5 teacher Janneke Blake left the profession after her son was born and, in August 2017, she established Shop Zero at markets and on Facebook. In February 2018, she opened her zero-waste, plastic-free lifestyle store in Woodstock, adjacent to the Old Biscuit Mill and Neighbourgoods Market.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop? I was raised to consider my impact on the environment and taught from an early age that many of life’s treasures can never be replaced. We owe it to our children and future generations to understand the needs of our environment and care for it accordingly to ensure a long and beautiful existence. I learned about Kate Nelson, aka @plasticfreemermaid on Instagram in 2016 and made a concerted effort to start giving up plastics.
I got the motivation to open up my own plastic-free store after watching a Carte Blanche episode about Bea Johnson, the founder of the zero waste lifestyle movement, speaker and author of Zero Waste Home. That’s when I realised that there was a gap in the South African market for space with everything you need to reduce your footprint at one store.
Janneke’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Vote with your wallet. Keep voting with your wallet. The market will always go where the cash is. Every time we purchase something, we are supporting a brand, a product and even an entire industry and that’s why it’s important to think before we buy.
- Eat consciously. Reducing our meat and dairy intake is a great way to reduce our impact on the planet. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the world’s transport combined. It’s also the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction.
- Take small steps. Every small step each of us takes is accumulative and part of the solution. We need to support each other, encourage each other and celebrate each little victory. Remember it is not a competition. Whatever you can cut out is a job well done.
Josh Beaver, co-owner of The Daily Goods Store in Muizenberg, opted out of a high-stress lifestyle and opened his store, with business partner Calvin Dias, in January 2019.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop? When I left school a couple of years ago, ago I found myself working in a very conventional, high-stress industry with long hours and long commutes. I found this way of living unsatisfying and unfulfilling; I resigned and went to live in the UK for a while. I spent time working on organic farms, learning about agriculture and my environment. Later, I volunteered on a permaculture farm and worked with a medicinal herbalist.
On my return from the UK, I wanted to start some sort of business where I didn’t depend on others for an income. I also wanted to know that whatever business I was involved with would be able to operate to my own environmental and ethical ethos. I wanted to provide people with what I was looking for personally: a mix of package-free, vegan and local things in the Southern Suburbs.
I met some awesome people already selling zero waste goods and offered to join them to help them grow their business. Later, I met Calvin Dias from The Hive in Muizenberg, who was their resident permaculture expert. He wanted to start an ethical/environmental market at The Hive and we decided to set up a zero waste shop together.
Josh’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Don’t be scared to start. It is really important to accept that you won’t be able to do everything right and fix it all from the beginning, but starting somewhere is the most important step.
- Follow the 5Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. It is important to have a system that you can apply to situations in your life to make more informed decisions. The 5Rs is a great one to start with because it says when I can’t refuse something then I should try to reduce the amount I use and so on.
- Use money as your vote. Becoming conscious that money is your vote makes what you purchase a much more personal matter. You are no longer just another one of the millions of faceless consumers whose decisions don’t make a difference, because every choice and purchase you make has an impact. This gives you a way to vote for your values because you can find companies that operate with your values and vote for them.
Teacher, artist and eco-warrior Jade Kristie Khoury opened the first Low Impact Living waste-free grocery store in September 2017 in Glencairn. A second Low Impact Living grocer has just opened (July 2019) at GOOD Spaces in Upper Woodstock.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop? I grew up in an unconventional environment where my sister and I were left to our own devices quite often. This allowed us to become very independent, creative and resourceful and design a life of our own making. In 2011, I read the book No Impact Man and that’s when I took my green living to the next level. I took pencil to paper and designed my ideal shop that would help people live a more waste-free life.
In 2017, I was asked to be one of three opening speakers for Bea Johnson, International Zero Waste guru and Author, at the Zero Waste Home SA tour that was having the opening in Cape Town. When space became available in Glencairn in the building where I had an office I took it as a pilot project for a zero-waste shop. It has grown into a fully-functioning waste-free grocery store with a cafe open seven days a week. I also offer Low Impact Living workshops, a kids programme called Earth Champs and consulting for homes, schools and businesses.
Jade’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Start where you can with what you can. The answer isn’t in a harsh black or white path but by making your best low-impact choices every day and learning from the areas where you struggle. You also become far more inspiring to others when you make it look easy and accessible.
- Spend your money on companies or product who are trying. This is how we vote with our wallets, strengthen what is good and lead change.
- Be prepared. Pack a kit in your car that has you covered for going out and staying as waste-free as possible. Stock it with reusable items for shopping, eating out or takeaways.
Fine Art graduate Carey Schoonraad opened Waste-Not Groceries in Port Elizabeth’s Richmond Hill in early March 2019.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop? I stumbled upon the concept of zero waste about three years ago via a YouTube video, which started off a process of thinking about my personal consumption and working slowly to reduce my waste. Learning of NUDE FOODS in Cape Town really inspired the idea that if it was possible for such a store to work in South Africa, maybe I could make it work in PE. We are still in the beginning phases of a broad public awareness of the negative impact of single-use plastics on the environment. Old habits are still deeply entrenched and unquestioned by many.
Carey’s tips for a more eco-conscious lifestyle
- Be conscious of your driving habits. Your environmental impact is not always visible as in the case of plastic packaging, so be conscious of the amount of driving you do and try to cut it down by using public transport, walking and/or cycling when possible.
- Check packaging. Be conscious of what your store-bought items are packaged in. Try to opt for products in tin, cardboard, or glass instead of plastic.
- Don’t buy into the perfectly Instagrammable hype of zero waste. Buy new items that you need, but always first use what you already own. Throwing out plastic containers that are still in good shape in order to replace them with new glass ones, or buying steel straws when you don’t ever actually use a straw, is not lowering your consumption.
DURBAN: GOOD SOURCE
Kim Drennan, along with her brother Phillip Botha and friends Nicole Benders, Jenny Thomson and Charlene Udal, opened the Hillcrest Good Source store in October 2018.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop? We were so tired of moaning about the challenges and knew there must be other people struggling to buy their groceries plastic and waste-free, so we decided to start this great adventure together and opened Good Source. I used to work for a UK company that sold compactors and balers and then I brought them home to SA and sold them here. I then moved onto a waste removal business, removing both recyclables and non-recyclables from business parks and estates, this was in the Cape Town area.
When I moved to KZN, I carried on recycling at home but not as a business and I got involved in the food industry. I realised that recycling was not enough and began a zero-waste lifestyle challenge.
The five of us got together with a common interest, each with something unique and great to offer to the venture. My brother, Phil, has a love for the ocean, is driven to go zero waste and you will find him working at the shop whenever he has time off from his “day job”. Nicole Benders is passionate about all things good, food and a waste-free life, from water wastage minimisation to package-free food. Jenny Thomson has strong systems and financial background, love for people and all things plastic-free.
Charlene Udal is a branding guru, helping us grow and stay on track. She has become obsessed with the zero-waste lifestyle.
Our green dream is for more people to start making changes every day – we really can make a difference together.
Kim’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Remember water is so precious, how much we use and what goes into our water systems.
- Remember to reduce food packaging as much as you can, as often as you can.
- Buy only what you need from the most ethical places you know, and can afford.
Shayne Walters-Girout and her mother-in-law, Jody Walters-Girout, opened Azikho in Ballito in 2017. Although not an exclusively zero-waste shop their stock of plastic-free products is growing.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop We both had a keen interest in gaining more knowledge on how to live a healthier, proactive and more sustainable lifestyle.
Azikho was originally opened as a natural and organic emporium. Over time, we became more aware of the desperate need to educate ourselves and others about decreasing our waste footprint. We also became aware of the need for packaging-free, natural products. Everything in our zero-waste store is zero waste to source, meaning there is no single-use plastic exchanged in our supply chain. We hope to grow this section of our store extensively in the future, so as to meet the needs of the conscious consumer and contribute to a better planet.
Shayne’s 3 tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Try to be prepared and plan more to become a conscious consumer. You are the starting point and your bin is not the endpoint. Picture everything you buy going somewhere.
- Reuse everything you can.
- Choose sustainable clothing, get rid of toxic cleaning chemicals in your home and try to use natural, eco-conscious and sustainably sourced products.
The Refill Den
Born and raised in Durban, sisters Vanessa Law and Megan Simpson opened the Refill Den on Adelaide Tambo in December 2018.
What drew you to open a zero-waste shop?
Megan: I spent a couple of years in London, working in coffee shops and becoming more aware of the amount of waste just one shop could generate at the end of each day. Just before leaving London to return to Durban, zero-waste stores started opening around London. It was such a relief to hear that people were realising that plastic packaging had become a big problem for our planet, even though we couldn’t shop at them. When I got back to Durban I started trying to make my own personal care products, avoiding excessive packaging.
Vanessa: I suggested that we open our own little eco-conscious store where Durbanites could come to minimise waste in their own homes. It is not easy to go completely plastic-free but keeping our unrecyclable cleaned waste to stuff tightly into plastic bottles to make eco-bricks is a good way to keep conscious of the waste we are accountable for.
Megan and Vanessa’s 3 tips for more eco-conscious living
- Go for glass or tin packaging instead of plastic.
- Refuse plastic as much as possible and keep your unrecyclable waste for eco-bricks or upcycling if you are creative.
- Make use of the unpackaged stores in your area and suggest products they don’t have if it is something you use a lot of.
Interior designer Leanné Hendricks opened the House of Bravo at Florida Fields in June 2019.
What drew you to open a Zero Waste shop? A big wake-up call for me was when I realised how much waste we were creating as a family and being a mom who always worries about what is nutritionally best, I realised that I needed to create a platform not only for my own family but for like-minded individuals who are on the same journey and bring even more awareness to the zero-waste movement. My green dream is to restore community disconnect and create an environment whereby people get to interact with us on a daily basis and meet others.
We will be holding workshops on many topics like Zero Waste and how to create a sustainable lifestyle. Basic skill development and community are two very important factors that we need to rethink and reintroduce into our lives and community and therefore we are creating a platform for this.
Leanné’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Only buy what you need
- Think before you buy: what effect will this product have on myself and the environment?
- Implement simple old-school principles in your buying methods by supporting local small businesses. It allows you to know the provenance of your products
Sam Moleta and her husband Dom, founders of The Refillery, opened their Fourways store at Cedar Square Shopping Centre in April 2019.
What drew you to open a zero waste store?
Samantha: Dom and I met in France while working in the super-yacht industry. We were lucky enough to see some of the most remote spots in the world and, sadly we saw the destruction and devastation caused by rubbish. The beaches were riddled with plastic and it floated past us in the sea. We attempted “Plastic-Free July” in 2018 and eliminated plastic bags, cups, straws, cling wrap and water bottles for the month and decided that that was our new normal. We wanted to see how we could continue to decrease our plastic consumption and saw that there was a gap in the market for convenient, accessible and stylish plastic-free shopping, and The Refillery was born.
Samantha’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Be more conscious of the amount of plastic you are consuming – at the end of your grocery shop take a look at how much single-use plastics are used and none of that can be reused or recycled. It ends up in landfill or the ocean.
- Start with one plastic-free alternative and grow from there. “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, but rather a million people doing it imperfectly.”
- Plan ahead. Making this way of life easier requires planning, so pack your reusable shopping bags and produce bags, try your hand at bulk foods shopping with zero packaging at shops like The Refillery and spread the word about the war on plastics. Small changes by millions of people can make a huge impact.
Mich Yunnie is a qualified CA with a passion for sustainability. In early June she opened The SEK Collective at the Real Mackay Building in Randburg.
What drew you to open a Zero Waste shop? My initial mission was to start an online platform that would sell only goods that met our three overarching pillars: Sustainable, Ethical, Kind (hence the SEK Collective). This would include, for example, goods made from recycled materials, or products made by previously disadvantaged people who had been taught a skill and needed a platform to showcase these and reach the correct market, or items sold by companies that donate to green or other worthy causes.
Along the way, I became acutely aware of the extreme devastation plastic is causing our planet, and decided that it would be more important, right now, to focus efforts on bricks and mortar store, that could directly assist people in reducing their everyday single-use plastic waste. As well as raising awareness as to why we need to change, and showcase how attainable lower impact living can be.
Mich’s three tips for living a more eco-conscious life
- Be organised: Until #plasticfree become the norm, we simply need to be a bit more prepared. This means always having the reusable bag in your car ready for the next shopping trip, carrying a reusable cup with you, taking your empty jars with you to fill up with grocery items etc.
- Watch what you eat: Roughly 25 times more energy is required to produce one calorie of beef than to produce one calorie of corn for human consumption. This is due to the amount of land required for livestock as well as the large amounts of water and other resources used in rearing livestock. It’s not a case of going full vegan or vegetarian, but make an effort to eat more plant-based meals, more often.
- Be aware of green-washing: Eco-friendly options are gaining popularity which brings about more and more claims that might not be quite as good as they sound. Ask questions, read ingredient lists and check out product reviews. ML
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved