Ottawa's first zero-waste grocery store officially opens

Ottawa's first zero-waste grocery store officially opened its doors Saturday in Hintonburg.

Nu Grocery customers bring their own containers or borrow or purchase reusable ones

Nu Grocery on Wellington Street West in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood held its opening Saturday. It currently stocks 400 food and household items. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

Ottawa's first zero-waste grocery store has officially opened its doors.

Nu Grocery in Hintonburg sells a variety of products — dry food, fresh produce, cleaning and beauty supplies — without any packaging.

Instead, people are encouraged to bring their own reusable containers or to borrow or purchase them from the store.

"If you go shopping today, most of the things that you buy are highly packaged," said owner Valérie Leloup during the store's official launch Saturday.

"You end up with almost more packaging than product, and [it] ends up in the garbage bin. Some of it is being recycled but most of it, unfortunately, still ends up in a landfill. As a zero-waste shopper you eliminate completely this part of your purchase. You just focus on the products." 

There will be no plastic bags, plastic wrap or containers available in the store. Shoppers will be offered either compostable paper bags or reusable glass bottles and jars — or they can bring their own containers, with the weight deducted from the price of whatever they buy. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

Leloup said she got the idea to start her new business after reading the book Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson, which advocates sustainable, waste-free living.

"It is a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity where you always ask yourself the question, 'Do I really need something — and if I need it, what's the most sustainable way to satisfy this need without impacting the environment?'" said Leloup.

Leloup, who grew up in France, said zero-waste stores have already opened up in countries across Europe and now seemed like the right time to open one up in the capital.

Nu Grocery owner Valerie Léloup said she was inspired to live a waste free lifestyle after reading the book Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. (CBC News)

She admitted, however, that adopting the waste-free lifestyle can be "a bit intimidating." 

"You have to understand zero waste on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, you have the people who really create zero waste — or basically just a jar of waste per year — and on the other [end of the] spectrum you have people who do nothing, who just have their bags and bags of waste," Leloup said.

"You can find your place within this spectrum. You don't have to be an extremist."

Creating positive environmental change

Federal Environment Minister and Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna said the store's mandate of environmental responsibility sends a message that's both important and necessary.

"This is really the future of shopping," said McKenna, who attended Saturday's opening.

"I always say the environment and the economy go together, and I'm really proud to see a local, female entrepreneur taking real action to tackle climate change, protect the environment and employ a bunch of people."

Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna says NU Grocery sets a positive environmental example in the community. (CBC News)

McKenna said Canadians create an enormous amount of waste, which is having a devastating impact on the environment.

As an example, on a recent trip to the Arctic, McKenna said she was shown polar bear scat containing bright pieces of blue plastic.

"Canadians are sadly some of the most polluting people. We really need to rethink what we're doing. We only have one planet, and I think this is a great part of the solution," she said.

Meanwhile, Leloup said her store has already inspired some people to think critically about the products they buy and the amount of waste it creates.

"I think that this store has triggered something," she said.