Montreal

Two wheels, one trailer, zero waste: Young entrepreneur turns his passion into a business

After working for two years as a carpenter, 22-year-old Simon Gosselin decided to start his own business, and turned his zeal for environmental causes into his job.

After working for two years as a carpenter, 22-year-old Simon Gosselin started a bike delivery service

Simon Gosselin, 22, has combined his love for cycling and passion for the environment into a one-of-a-kind business. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Simon Gosselin's work day usually starts in the spare room in the basement of his family home in Longueuil, on Montreal's South Shore.

Surrounded by sacks of dry goods, large containers of soaps and cleaners, cotton bags, glass jars, a scale and a white board he uses to track his orders for the coming days, the 22-year-old spends his time in his parents' basement strategizing on how to grow his zero-waste bike delivery business, Vrac sur roues.

After working for two years as a carpenter, Gosselin said he wanted to start his own business, something ecological. But he kept hearing the same comment from potential customers who wanted to shop zero-waste.

"What I was told is 'it's nice, but we don't have the time to go to a zero-waste store, and then to a normal place.' So they won't do it because they don't want to go to two or three different stores," said Gosselin.

So, he decided to take zero-waste to his customers. Gosselin used the money he saved from his job as a carpenter to finance his business. And he chose the cleanest way he could think of for his deliveries — his bike.

"Removing some plastic waste is not really the best thing [if you're going to deliver by car]. The bicycle was the fastest, easiest and most ecological way."

I really love what I'm doing with Vrac sur roues. I don't have any other plans. Honestly, I really love it.- Simon Gosselin

His delivery zone covers part of the South Shore into Montreal as far north as Highway 40, east to Highway 25 and west to the Décarie Expressway.

Gosselin says he was into the zero-waste movement before he realized it was an actual movement.

"For a thing like granola bars, the packaging is not recyclable so I never used to eat any of those because I couldn't recycle," said Gosselin.

"I was in the mind of zero-waste without knowing there was a movement. When I heard about it, it was like an instant click for me."

Prep before pedalling

Gosselin usually delivers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, once in the morning, and once in the early evening. When it's busy, Gosselin can make upward of 60 deliveries in a month. He has more than 300 individual clients.

Customers order online from his inventory of about 280 different products, a list he has built up slowly over time based on requests from clients. His basement storage room is filled with shelves of large paper bags and boxes filled with everything ranging from nuts to flour to beans to spices. He also has large bottles filled with olive oil, detergents, soaps and cleaners.

Simon Gosselin fills a container with granola before heading out to make his deliveries. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Gosselin measures the right amount of each item into a reusable cotton bag for the dry goods or a glass jar for the liquid products.

Once the orders are filled, he loads everything either into the saddle bags of his Mikado road bicycle, or onto the trailer he tows behind. On a busy delivery day, he can be hauling as much as 30 kilograms.

With the tires on his bike and trailer appropriately inflated, Gosselin is set to leave. The ride begins with the trip over the Jacques Cartier Bridge to cross into Montreal.

"That's pretty much the hardest part of my job, it's to cross the bridge. That's where I'm the heaviest and there's the most elevation [to get over the bridge]," said Gosselin, his legs churning as he climbed towards the bridge's highest point.

One of the hardest parts of Gosselin’s work is pedalling his fully loaded bike and trailer up the incline on the Jacques Cartier Bridge. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Once across the St. Lawrence River, Gosselin still has work to do before he can begin his deliveries.

His first stop is at a hair salon near the corner of Papineau Avenue and Ste-Catherine Street, the drop-off point for his delivery of ugly fruit and vegetables from his supplier, SecondLife.

"[The produce] is considered ugly, so they don't sell in a normal store," said Gosselin. "So instead of putting them in the garbage, they put them in a basket like this. They save a lot of waste and it goes in the zero-waste philosophy of not wasting any food."

Gosselin loads the ugly fruit and vegetables into his bike trailer and pedals two minutes away to the Papineau Metro station to meet his next supplier.

Inside the metro station, Gosselin leans across a turnstile, hands over a number of empty plastic bins, and accepts delivery of a few dozen fresh-made vegan bagels from Maria Campos, who is waiting there for him.

One of Gosselin’s stops before he begins delivery is at the Papineau Metro station to get his delivery of vegan bagels from Maria Campos, owner of Vegabagel. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

"When he talked to me about the [zero-waste delivery] project, I'd never heard about anything like this before, said Campos, Vegabagel owner.

"It's great that he's offering this service. I'm very happy for him and for this partnership, too."

From there, he makes one more stop, two kilometres away, to pick up a litre each of hemp milk and almond milk, then starts his day's deliveries.

Time to deliver

Gosselin pedals his food-laden trailer at a steady pace, avoiding the dips and cracks in the Montreal road network with the agility of deer bounding through the forest. His first delivery is in the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood, at the home of Adriana Daca and Christophe Botek.

Daca and Botek have their containers ready on their kitchen table when Gosselin arrives and

removes the food items he packaged earlier in the day. Daca and Botek transfer the food into their containers.

The couple say they have been trying to make the jump to zero waste for about a year. But with a lack of options nearby, it hasn't always been easy.

"It was really convenient to be able to have somebody delivering food when I was not able to go to the grocery store," said Botek, who works as a software engineering consultant.

"I think he's the hero we all deserve," said an impressed Daca, a doctoral student in engineering. "The fact that he delivers by bicycle is even better. It's rethinking the way we do things to be more sustainable. It's really cool."

Adriana Daca and Christophe Botek transfer chickpeas into their own jars as Gosselin unpacks other items from their order. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Daca says Gosselin's delivery system helps in their effort to go zero waste without having to prepare jars and bags to haul to the nearest bulk store or market.

"The fact that he's able to deliver actual zero-waste groceries and transfer things to your own containers, it's really helpful when you're leading a busy lifestyle and maybe you went away for the weekend and you didn't have time to go to the market or bulk store," said Daca.

At the end of his day, Gosselin makes the trek back over the Jacques-Cartier Bridge and to his house in Longueuil. His first order of business: eat. He has to replenish the calories lost from what is usually a day of hauling food combined with cycling about 30 kilometres on a hot afternoon.

He'll also carry out some maintenance on his bike to make sure it's ready for the next day of deliveries, and stretch to keep his cycling muscles limber for the next trek.

The future is zero

Gosselin says this is what he sees for himself as a career path.

"I really love what I'm doing with Vrac sur roues. I don't have any other plans. Honestly, I really love it."

Ideally, he'd like to grow the business to the point where he can hire others to help with the packaging and deliveries, allowing him to concentrate on the business and still do a few deliveries.

Gosselin realizes he's fortunate to still live in his parents' home and keep his overhead costs low. He says he has the support of his parents, even if they don't totally understand what he does.

"I get it. It's my generation that cares that much about plastic waste. So I get it that they don't have exactly the same view as me," said Gosselin.

Simon's father, André Gosselin, said his son has always been ecologically minded.

"We're proud of him," he said.

"He might not make a fortune from the business. For him, it's important to succeed in something he believes in, regardless of the money. It's important for him to do something he loves."

About the Author

Elias Abboud

Journalist

Elias Abboud is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

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