It Just Got Easier to Be Green
I sat down with Sasha Mazur, owner of Green Life Trading Co. at a local coffee shop. We talked about why she decided to start an online zero waste retail store, why it's important to her to operate a business that aligns with her values, and how GLTC is helping people be better for the planet.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to start Green Life Trading Co.
Sasha: I am Sasha Mazur. I don't know where to start. I guess I discovered the zero waste movement in college, probably as a sophomore or junior. When my husband and I moved to Madison earlier this year, I knew I wasn't going to have a job right away, so we decided I would use this time to zero waste our house even more than it was before.
At the time I was also applying to school, but the zero waste thing just started taking over and I realized I wanted to stick with it. I also had incredibly supportive family and friends who we’re telling me to go for it. In fact, the only other family we have in Madison, My husband's mom's cousin (I have no idea what that makes her to me), Jeanette Roberts, was one of my biggest cheerleaders.
You mentioned in an Instagram post recently something about being your authentic self. Once I started thinking about really doing this, I all of a sudden started feeling content with my life. I have always been a happy person, but I was never completely satisfied with my career. Something about following this path of creativity, sales -- which to me, is working with people and making human connections -- and environmentalism just felt right, felt authentic. Green Life Trading Co. is really just to help make zero waste more approachable for people.
What makes Green Life Trading Co. different than other zero waste stores out there?
Sasha: One thing that I'm really trying to do, and I think I'll be able to do it more as I grow, is to source as locally as possible. When I look at a lot of other zero waste stores, they have awesome products that I also want, but they're made in China, made in Australia, made in California. So when I am sourcing products, I start with Wisconsin and I see what I can find. Sometimes I can't find anything and then I go to Michigan, Minnesota, Midwest and I go out from there. I'm only working with one company from China and they do everything ethically there. So there's the hyper local aspect.
For me, this is not all about sales either, the community aspect is what really inspires me. I am so thrilled to be part of the growing zero waste community in Madison. I love how grassroots it is, we’re not a non-profit, no one is paid, we’re just a group of people trying to connect and spread a way of living that is kinder to the environment. The Facebook group (Zero Waste Madison) has been an amazing resource and I can’t wait for the two events we currently have scheduled (a Housewares Swap on Oct 20th and a Recycling Workshop on Nov. 15th) and the many more we have been brainstorming.
What are some examples of products you sell on your website?
Sasha: The three places I really feel reducing my waste helped a lot are the kitchen, the bathroom, and cleaning products.
I've divided the kitchen into the things you're using for cooking like Beeswax Food Wraps and Food Huggers, which are silicone molds, so you can stick half of your onion in it and it's going to preserve that half a little longer.
I also have a dining section because a lot of zero waste is when you go out and you want to buy a coffee or buy food to go or go to the farmers market.
We have lots of bags, a lot of lunch boxes, and straws of course. And then there are things for the bathroom, so safety razors are essential in my book. Bamboo toothbrushes, deodorant, deodorant cream.
We also sell vintage products, like jars and beautiful old hankies. Zero wasters can never have enough jars!
Safety razor is $27 and comes with 10 blades and a hemp bag. Laundry detergent pods are $10. Large mesh produce bag is $6. [Photos courtesy of Sasha Mazur.]
How did you learn about zero waste and why did you decide to make it part of your lifestyle?
Sasha: I was in college. I don't remember what year, but I definitely remember being on a TEDTalk binge and just, you know, watching one after the other about environmental issues. But somehow, they are inspiring and not scary when you're listening to a TEDTalk. I heard Lauren Singer. I know she introduced a lot of people to the movement and then shortly after that I found Bea Johnson who I feel like really popularized it in America too.
I remember seeing Lauren's little jar and thinking... oh my god... no... that's extreme. I don't want to live that way. Who could do that? And then I found out that not that many changes got us there. I mean we're not mason jar trash people. We still have two small trash cans in our house, but we got surprisingly close. I was really shocked by how close we got to that.
A common perception about living sustainably is that it is more expensive. Have you seen any financial benefits to being zero waste, both personally and as a business?
Sasha: I guess it can cost you more upfront, admittedly, but it doesn't have to and I think that's one of the big misconceptions. So the first thing I thought about when you asked that was bulk shopping. You buy as much as you need so nothing is going bad. You're not going to buy this giant bag of rice and then half of it sits in your pantry for the next three years... which I have done. So you're spending what you want to spend. You're getting what you want. Upfront, it can be more expensive if you want dry goods bags or need more jars for storage or beeswax wraps to preserve your food. And maybe I am shooting myself in the foot here, but it doesn't have to be like that. You can reuse your yogurt container, your pasta sauce jar. I just cut up some old pants and plan to turn them into a bag for dry goods. You can repurpose a lot of things you own.
As a business, I would say, yes, we bought carbon offsets upfront and that was money we absolutely did not need to spend at all, but it just felt very important and it's given me peace of mind. But we're not buying new boxes. All we have spent money on is our compostable tape that we're putting on the boxes and compostable mailing labels. We're saving a lot of money there.
"I guess it costs more upfront, admittedly, but it doesn't have to and I think that's one of the big misconceptions."
What has been the most challenging thing about operating Green Life Trading Co. as a zero waste business?
Sasha: It's really hard to say because we haven't had our grand opening yet, we've been quietly online for about a week.
I guess one thing that was really hard in the beginning, when I was taking business classes with two non-profits, was the tone of some of the feedback I received. I learned a lot in those classes, I would definitely do them again, but my goal is not to just be another retailer. I want to do retail -- buying, shipping, packaging -- a very specific way. Not just with the environment in mind, but rather, at the forefront of every decision. I was told to cut corners for the sake of the budget, things like buying regular packing tape rather then the compostable kind. To me packing tape is not minor detail, I will be using a lot of it and I don't want to send something out into the world that I cannot get behind.
At one point, I met with two older gentlemen who were retired businessmen volunteering for this particular organization. I was explaining to them that I want to ship sustainably, what I'm putting in the box to pad the product is important to me. Their advice was to drop ship. Do you know what drop shipping is? (I didn't...). Drop shipping is when a website is just a middle-man. So if you order something from a website, instead of me having the inventory to then mail to you, I am actually notifying the manufacturer and the manufacturer is sending it to you. So if you order three things from three different manufacturers, you're getting three different boxes that probably have bubble wrap in them and you're like... wait I thought I bought something from a sustainable company… what's going on? And so I explained to them that actually having inventory is important to me. Packing the boxes myself is important. They were really discouraging. They were telling me drop shipping was the way to go, but the more I researched drop shipping, it just really wasn't possible with my vendors and I never felt comfortable having that little involvement in my operations.
The other thing that was challenging, or I guess discouraging, was telling them about a makeup company I wanted to work with that takes back tins to clean and reuse. Their response was "That company is just doing that to have loyalty from their customers. It's not saving them any money". I don't know... that perspective scared me off a little. I was like oh… is this what I'm getting into? Is this how people think? But I went home and realized they were not thinking about the added environmental costs that recycling the tin would have over just reusing it. The process of recycling the tin -- from the truck to the recycling facility, to sorting, to the shipping, to melting it down… you get where I’m going -- would cost more and emit more carbon. That is something they didn't consider, they were not trained to consider. But I think that's the future of where sustainable businesses are going it's not about green-washing, like they were saying that was. It's about actually doing it.
"I don't know... that perspective scared me off a little. I was like oh... is this what I'm getting into? Is this how people think?"
What is one thing you wish other retail businesses would do to reduce their environmental impact?
Sasha: I guess I'm thinking of online retail because that's what I'm doing. Really just be conscious of who you purchase from and how they package. It's so easy to ask "can you pack this differently for me?" and if they say no, that's fine. Maybe you still really want the product and you get a little packaging. That's fine. But once the manufacturers are aware people are asking for this, and if enough people are asking for it, they're going make the changes. It's going to be worth it for them so they can have that business.
One thing I realized when I worked in a physical retail store, was that we didn't create that much trash. I was like oh, that's really cool but then I realized we were just passing it all along to the consumer. Like there is bubble wrap in there but we're leaving it in the box that we're giving to someone. Zero waste isn't just about you. It's about this whole system that you're participating in. So yeah, I would say just asking a lot of question and being conscious about who you work with.
Green Life Trading Co. will be having a pop-up event at Zero Waste Madison's next meetup -- a housewares swap at Common Ground in Middleton on Saturday, October 20 from 10am to noon.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I ordered a Redecker brush and I'm like why is this wrapped in bubble wrap? Like, what? So just a reminder: don't be too hard on yourself. You're making a difference. I think I've had to accept that a business is going to create waste and I just need to accept it and that goes for the individual.