Jun 27

Windhoek’s Zero Waste Store aims to provide a more natural and up-to-the-minute shopping experience – and eradicate all packaging and food waste at the same time.

By Vitalio Angula, bird story agency

At a street corner in an affluent Windhoek suburb stands a store painted in earthy tones, its name printed bold on a large sign. Situated next to a trendy-looking restaurant and on the intersection of two main roads – one of which is named after Namibia’s independence struggle hero Sam Nujoma – the Zero Waste Store aims to bring its own quiet revolution to retail practices in the country.

The smell as one walks in – a heady combination of spices and natural scents – is unlike any other shopping experience. One is immediately put on notice that this is a retail store where all items are sold without packaging.

Choosing from among lines of brightly coloured glass jars and (recyclable) plastic dispensers, patrons bring their containers, bottles and jars to fill up on most household products, including foodstuffs, detergents, and oils.

Shop owner Brigitte Reissner explained that she was inspired by Bea Johnson, an American environmental activist who champions Zero Waste Living.

“Bea was here in June 2018, and she gave a talk that was just mind-blowing. She lives with a family of four and produces at most only five hundred millilitres of waste in a year! I wanted to know if that would be possible, if I could do the same,” Reissner said during a tour of the store.

“So I began to research zero waste stores online, and I visited a few in South Africa because I wanted to embark upon my own zero waste journey by opening a similar shop and doing my part in safeguarding the environment for future generations,” she said.

After extensive research and planning, Reissner opened the Zero Waste store in July 2019. Today she has at least fifty walk-in clients a day – suggesting that the store’s ethos is gaining a loyal local following. Zero waste lifestyle is a concept that includes producing as little waste as possible to protect the environment.

A display below the colourful glass spice dispensers encourages the use of Bokashi Food Waste Recycling Bins.

“The buckets are used to make compost. You collect your organic waste daily and throw it into the bucket. The bucket contains a mixture of bran, wood chips and molasses (a dark syrup that is a by-product of sugar production) and enzymes. The organic waste is layered together with the inputs and left for at least three weeks and creates a liquid concentrate that is mixed with water to create plant fertilizer and the solids are used as compost for plants,” Reissner explained.

Emilia Christian has worked at the Zero Waste shop since its inception. She explained that one of the advantages of shopping there is that customers purchase only what they require.

“Our shopping experience is based on the elimination of waste. If I go to a regular retail market I might have to buy seasoning or vinegar in quantities that I don’t really need but with Zero Waste Shopping I can buy only that quantity which I desire. The flour or spices that I need are weighed, I fill up my container, I pay and then I leave. This is the unique shopping experience we afford our clients and this does not only cut down on waste but also saves our customers money to pay for other goods”, she explained.

During the tour, Karola Redecker, a regular customer at the Zero Waste Shop, arrived with her two teenage daughters for some Saturday morning shopping. She has been a patron of the Zero Waste Shop for the past three years.

“It’s not an easy lifestyle to adopt, but I have to set an example for my daughters to do what they can to protect the environment,” she said.
One of the more popular products in the shop is its bio-degradable soaps which are locally manufactured.

Reissner says using bio-degradable soaps made from organic products mitigates the contamination of underground water caused by chemical-based soaps and detergents.

“Look at the bigger picture, how many households do we have in the city, and how many chemical products like Jik enter our sewage system on a daily basis? These chemicals slip into our groundwater and cause contamination so even though we are just one shop if more people become conscious of this we can do more to safeguard our environment for future generations”, she said.

Running the shop has come with its fair share of challenges. One of the biggest hurdles has been convincing manufacturers to adopt sustainable packaging and delivery methods. Encouraging suppliers to onboard the “zero-waste train” has been particularly difficult as some suppliers insist on using plastic packaging.

Reissner says education is essential in sensitising people about the need to safeguard the environment sustainably, and even though a zero-waste lifestyle is difficult and sometimes inconvenient to adopt, it does have a positive impact on changing attitudes and making people more environmentally conscious.

“I do embark upon social outreaches and last week we had a kindergarten class pay us a visit. If we can educate the young ones they will be informed as they grow older of how they can drive positive change within their families and communities and the importance of minimizing waste”, she said.

bird story agency