Three years ago, Paula and Nairn McPhee decided to stop creating waste at home. They were so committed, they even removed their garbage cans.
That move would motivate the couple to create the Zero Waste Emporium in August of 2018 — Vancouver Island’s first full-serve, zero-waste grocery store. The store provides food, personal care and cleaning items (from milk and meat to veggies, oils and shampoo) all package- free. Customers can bring their own containers, or use those at the store.
“When we started reducing our waste, we jumped in with both feet, but there weren’t many resources to support us, and it was frustrating running all over the CRD to get what we needed,” says Paula. “We wanted to make it easier on ourselves.”
While they may have started the Emporium to support their goals, the McPhees didn’t realize how many Victorians were looking for the same. From the pop-up at farmer’s markets to the store on Douglas Street, their growth has been unprecedented. Now, with more than 1,200 items from 100 suppliers — 30 per cent of those from Victoria — the McPhees are looking at next steps, like home delivery, to keep shopping accessible.
“The truth is, things really can be different,” says Nairn, “and we can all be very much a part of this.”
A Q & A with Paula & Nairn McPhee
What was the scariest part of starting up?
Nairn: Neither of us came to this with business backgrounds — Paula is a marine biologist and I’m an aquaculture technician — so we had a real learning curve, from understanding inventory to financial management, but we’ve taken everything as it’s come.
Paula: It’s scary opening your own store, but the experience has been very rewarding, especially as we’ve become a resource — not just for customers, but for other collaborators and advocates.
What book or podcast have you found most inspirational?
Nairn: The documentary Trashed started it all when we began our journey to reduce waste. The film looks at how garbage is managed, worldwide, and how important it is to refuse waste from the start.
Paula: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson is a great resource that explains how to go from everyday life to getting your waste down in easy and realistic ways.
This article is from the April/May 2020 issue of Douglas.