Nova Scotia

Owner of zero-waste shop takes environmentalism to the next level

Unpacked Halifax is a pop-up shop that sells food and home products, such as shampoo, soap and detergent, without the packaging found in typical grocery stores.

Unpacked Halifax sells items like shampoo, soap and detergent, but without the packaging

Caira Clark started her zero-waste shop because she was frustrated by the overabundance of packaging in other stores. (Emma Smith/CBC)

A Dalhousie University grad's quest to curb her waste has turned into a business that's upping the ante on environmentalism.

Unpacked Halifax is a zero-waste pop-up shop that sells food and home products, such as shampoo, soap and detergent, without the packaging found in typical grocery stores. Shoppers must bring their own reusable containers or buy cotton bags made by the Prescott Group, a social enterprise in the North End.

"It's kind of the next step of environmentalism," said owner Caira Clark, who graduated from Dalhousie's environment, sustainability and society program last year.

"A lot of us have already switched to bringing our own bags to the store, we might have changed our light bulbs to fluorescent or LED, made those kind of simple switches. This is the next step to diving in."

Unpacked Halifax sells cotton bags made by the Prescott Group if customers forget to bring their reusable containers. (Emma Smith/CBC)

All wrapped up

Clark has been reducing what she throws away for years, but only attempted to go zero-waste about a year ago. The idea is simple enough — don't buy anything you'd have to throw away. But it's not always easy to execute. 

Pet products like cat food and cat litter, as well as shampoo and detergents are especially tricky, said Clark.

Unpacked Halifax receives its Nova Scotia-made shampoo in a special tub. (Emma Smith/CBC)

"You kind of run up against some walls when you're living a zero-waste lifestyle and there is no opportunity for zero-waste shopping," said the 23-year-old. 

That's why Unpacked Halifax tries to sell items that aren't normally found in bulk. In addition to glass jars of dried foods, Clark has a 20-litre jug of dish detergent and a couple tubs of goat milk shampoo that she ladles into customers' reusable containers.

Growing the green economy

Despite companies like Bulk Barn allowing customers to use reusable containers and more stores getting rid of plastic bags, Canadians are producing more garbage.

According to Statistics Canada, household waste in 2014 grew to over 9.9 million tonnes, an increase of roughly one million tonnes from 2004.

Satya Ramen with the Ecology Action Centre is encouraged by the trend of limiting the purchase of packaged goods, although she said it's still relatively new. Other than Unpacked, Ramen said she hasn't heard of other completely zero-waste stores in Nova Scotia.

"That's part of what we want to see in a green economy, people thinking differently about how we operate as businesses and what kinds of businesses we want to support and how that can support clean, green jobs for our future," she said. 

When Unpacked Halifax isn't on display as a pop-up shop, the products take over a closet in Caira Clark's Dartmouth apartment. (Emma Smith/CBC)

One bag at a time

Clark knows going zero-waste won't happen overnight. She said she and her partner still produce about a half of a Sobeys bag of garbage a week. She's not quite as extreme as those who can fit a year's worth of trash in a jar, although she's working on it.

"The easiest way to go zero-waste is not to go zero-waste all at once. Definitely I didn't do that … it was more of a transition period," said Clark. 

Unpacked Halifax's next pop-up location is the Alderney Landing Farmers' Market on June 3.

Unpacked Halifax sells bulk dry foods from Nova Scotia producers. (Emma Smith/CBC)

With files from CBC's Information Morning