Not long ago, plastic straws and bags were shunned, reusable mugs were encouraged at coffee shops and cloth napkins were hallmarks of fine dining. But COVID-19 didn’t just prompt an unprecedented resurgence of single-use packaging — it forced us to dispose of things we rarely needed before: masks, gloves and wipes.
But amidst the panic, stocking up and wrapping more plastic and paper around, well, everything, one Edmonton store continued its mission to do the opposite. Branded as the first 100-per-cent-zero-waste store in the city, Re:Plenish first opened as a weekend pop-up at Forge 53 in January. Its founders, Meghann Law and Karine St-Onge, believed the city was ready to welcome the first store offering exclusively sustainable, zero waste and mostly local products — and they weren’t wrong.
“The response was overwhelmingly positive,” says St-Onge.
“Regardless of your politics, reducing your waste isn’t a political issue,” adds Law. “It’s for everyone.”
Re:Plenish carries local brands such as Jack59, Earth Warrior and Wild Prairie Soap Co.
“As much as possible, we go local, both because we want to support our local economy, and also, if things are being made in Edmonton that means they’re not being transported, so there’s a reduction in gas emissions there, as well as packaging for shipping,” says Law.
At a time when many businesses began introducing indi-vidual packaging during the lockdown, Re:Plenish doubled down on its zero waste stance. The owners took it upon themselves to carry out home deliveries, using recyclable paper bags and filling out and disinfecting reusable con-tainers for customers. Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
“People are really excited that we’re still doing it,” says Law.
Shortly after re-opening its doors in July, Re:Plenish moved to a new space in Ritchie, as the owners committed to running the business seven days a week. Prior to this, both worked full-time jobs — St-Onge was a school librarian, and Law was a speech and language-pathologist assistant.
“There are definitely way more people through the door and still lots and lots of people are just finding out about us,” says Law.
All Re:Plenish packaging is compostable or biodegradable, and the owners have taken extra steps to ensure safety and cleanliness, following Alberta Health Services guidelines. They’ve limited the number of visitors in the store to six at a time. And only St-Onge or Law is permitted to touch the pumps used for refills — which get sanitized after each use.
“It’s a bit of a production,” says Law. “But, even though it’s difficult for us, and it takes more time, and it’s not very fun, it’s really important to us to still offer that service because it’s really hard to find right now.”
“And the customer can know that they’re not buying anything that’s not compostable or biodegradable,” adds St-Onge. “There’s absolutely nothing here that can’t be reused indefinitely or composted.”
Alberta’s move back to Step 1 did not include the closure of schools.
Meanwhile, Ontario shut its schools as COVID numbers increase.