Nu Grocery is celebrating nearly a year of helping people in Ottawa live a zero waste lifestyle and cutting down on the amount of garbage they send to the trash.
The store opened in August 2017 as Ontario’s first zero waste grocery store. The business makes it easier for people to cut down on the amount of garbage they produce by selling food without packaging and making people bring their own containers, according to Sia Veeramani, co-fouder of the store.
Veeramani has been living zero waste with her husband for the past six years. She said the lifestyle is something she is always working on and the goal is to send as little as possible – or nothing— to landfills.
“Zero waste living is always a journey, always been a transition towards zero waste… It’s an ideal situation when you completely have zero, and that’s the goal.”
Veeramani said it has been rewarding watching people in Hintonburg and the rest of Ottawa learn about zero waste living and to start to adopt it. She said at the beginning some people weren’t prepared to shop at the store and didn’t bring their own containers, but they quickly learned how it’s done.
“Now we see all the same people come into the store with their totes, with their jars and they know what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s already a habit for them, that’s what we were striving for.”
Customers have to bring their own containers or bags for most products at the store, although Nu Grocery does sell containers that can be reused again and again. The store stocks regular groceries like fruits, vegetables and bread, but also toothpaste and laundry detergent, which Veeramani said is difficult to find conveniently and affordably without packaging.
“That’s what lead us to think about a shop like this -- where we could find everything in bulk and where we could bring or own containers-- and so we won’t have to explain why or how. It makes zero waste very convenient and accessible.”
She said the business model also helps to reduce food waste as Nu Grocery sells items like single eggs, instead of having to commit to six or a dozen. One of the most popular items the store sells is vegan, organic gummy bears.
Nu Grocery has become a hub for the zero waste community in Ottawa, where before the store opened there wasn’t a place for like-minded people to meet. Veeramani said that she and her business partner, Valerie Leloup, both had the idea separately to start a zero waste grocery store in Ottawa but didn’t meet each other until they were introduced by Bea Johnson, a zero waste blogger.
“We got together and instantly liked each other,” she said. “My husband decided to step aside and let us girls get our girl power and open up the store.”
Veeramani said that since opening, she and Leloup have had many people contact them looking for advice on opening zero-waste stores. She said a store is coming to the Kitchener-Waterloo area soon and potentially one in Toronto. In the future Nu Grocery could expand and open more stores, but it would have to be “in harmony” with the current one in Hintonburg at 1130 Wellington St.
“It might feel scary for some people to start a zero waste lifestyle, and they feel they have to be super perfect and not produce any waste, but zero waste is a spectrum and just all about finding your place on that spectrum.”
Nu Grocery is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.