Do you know what happens to your wine and beer bottles when they get recycled? If the answer is no, you're not alone. Most people only have a vague idea of what recycling means. They imagine that their waste goes to some eco-friendly factory and magically transforms itself into a reusable item.
However, as the Lane brothers of Austin zero-waste grocer, in.gredients, fount out, the reality is far different.
The Lifecycle of a Beer
"They were looking at the lifecycle of a beer bottle and thinking about how absurd it is that we use it once, and then if we're lucky it goes in a recycling bin and it goes halfway across the world to get melted down into raw material to maybe get shipped right back," explains former general manager Josh Blaine, who now operates under the title of business development.
This realization shocked brothers Christian, Patrick, and Joseph Lane enough that they decided to take recycling into their own hands by taking it a step further opening a grocery store that sells items with zero packaging. Like many things in Austin, this radical concept was a first in America.
An Experiment Becomes a Success
In essence, this store was an effort to test out not only the environmental impact of upgrading from recycling to zero-waste, but also the cultural and social reaction to such a different approach to grocery shopping. It took awhile, however, to dream up a way to viably test out this concept.
Not only did the brothers have to come up with a business model to sell zero-waste, zero-packaging groceries, but they had to find the perfect space to do so.
Thankfully, they found acceptance on the east side of Austin - the Williamsburg of the South.
Even though this enterprise seemed to have developed from a solid philosophical foundation, Blaine admits, "We were very honest and upfront initially that it was an experiment."
Tonight was a success & so much fun! We're grateful for the community that came out and to everyone who made our 4th Anniversary Party possible! As with our monthly First Friday Block Parties, a portion of today's sales will be donated to our non-profit community partner Workers Defense Project. Thank you for helping us raise funds and celebrate! We couldn't do it without you Austin.
Indeed, an experiment it was, and a difficult one at that. Unfortunately, the problem with opening the very first of something (even in an adventurous neighborhood like east Austin) is that it's difficult to get people to buy in.
Blaine remembers, "We would literally watch our customers walk across the street to RBM and buy a 6-pack of beer after buying one or two items here." He laments that this inability to completely convert people over to the idea of not purchasing groceries with packaging propelled in.gredients to reorient their zero-packaging approach.
For the last three years, "'Package-free' is one sliver of a whole ethos that 'zero-waste' encapsulates," Blaine says.
However, he says that the staff at in.gredients has come to realize that, "Our value is as much, if not more, about the physical space and the atmosphere and culture that we set than it is about the products that we offer."
in.gredients Community Approach
The realization that in.gredients could be more than just a store has ignited a new flame of purpose for the store. Families can play with their children at the in.gredients playground.
Sue White, a local neighbor, works their garden patch and sells subsidized vegetables to the community to encourage healthy eating. And their pagoda encourages friends and family to gather and enjoy each others' company as well as regular musical performances.
Congrats to Friday's top spender @thesimplehive ! They're a beautiful family that travels down from Waco to fill their containers (15 BYOCs!) with a variety of bulk goods. "We live out in the country where trash collection is expensive," they explained. "So being zero waste is all the more important for us." Their heroic patronage earned them a @hooversez gift card!
At this point, Blain observed, the goal of in.gredients is working to changing the community's mindset about food. "It's all about habits. It really is. And it's still cool to watch how we're slowly changing consumer habits."
However, changing those habits is a marathon, not a sprint.