Our Problem With Plastic: Q&A with James Denton of GoodFor
A few weeks before GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery opened, the zero waste movement came to my attention after watching this Ted Talk by Lauren Singer. I was immediately intrigued, and in the days that followed, I became painfully aware of how much unnecessary plastic I was throwing away on a daily basis. I learnt as much as I possibly could about reducing my plastic consumption and began to bring reusable bags to the supermarket. Honestly, it was difficult at first - I constantly forgot to bring the bags in with me. But after a little while, it began to stick (and I now keep a folded up tote bag in my handbag at all times).
It felt wonderful to be living so in alignment with my values, eliminating unnecessary plastic left, right and centre. But there was still the issue of buying food, all of which seemed to come in multiple layers of the stuff. I didn't have much luck bringing jars into my local organics store to use at the bulk bins - I was told that it would be "too hard" for them. This is the kind of reaction I would have expected from a large chain supermarket, not a small organics store with an eco-friendly attitude. Sure, they provide brown paper bags for the bulk goods rather than plastic ones - but why use paper when I already had about 100 empty nut butter jars lying around my house?! Madness.
Mere weeks after the jar incident at the organics shop, GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery, New Zealand's first zero-packaging bulk foods store, opened its doors just up the road from my home and answered all of my prayers. So I must say, GoodFor - impeccable timing on your part!
GoodFor is a mecca for foodies and environmentalists alike. There, you will find everything from nuts, seeds and grains to Earthwise cleaning products and shampoo - even kombucha and Fix & Fogg peanut butter on tap. Ideally, you bring your own jars from home - but if you don't have any laying around, you can choose from the selection for sale in-store.
9am - 7pm weekdays
10am - 6pm weekends
2 Williamson Ave, Ponsonby, Auckland
What inspired you to open a zero-waste store?
James: Prior to the idea to go ahead and start a zero-waste store, I was fixed on starting an environmentally sustainable business - so I was in the head space. What actually lead me to push go on the idea was my practical realisation of how insane the idea of buying single use plastic was. Why is it totally normal to buy a piece of a single use toxic waste and literally throw it in the ground for it to never biodegrade? A zero-waste bulk wholefoods store was definitely a step in the right direction to making people aware that there is another way that is easy and cool.
Have you run into any challenges along the way?
James: Business is one continuous challenge. Basically all you do in business is solve problems. When you initially plan a business, you think everything is going to go exactly how you planned, but it just doesn't work that way. The best solution to this is having a positive attitude towards the inevitable problems you are faced with, as solving problems means you are improving your business. Business challenges are fun!
GoodFor stocks more than just your standard bulk bin fare - what unexpected things can be found in-store?
James: I am really passionate about food and I based the store off what I would personally like to be able to purchase. Things like organic freekeh, which is an ancient grain that is amazingly tasty and versatile in the kitchen - also things like organic Brazilian acai berry powder, this is hard to find outside of a small package that costs a fortune, or organic tamari on tap! If you are wanting to be inspired in the kitchen, the store really is the place to get your creative culinary thoughts flowing.
And the question on everyone's mind - how does the packaging that products arrive to GoodFor in fit into your waste-free philosophy?
James: If we needed to be 100% plastic-free through the entire process, from the beginning, we would never have started. Single use plastic is so entrenched in our culture that it is going to take years to filter a lot of the unnecessary parts of it out. GoodFor is an ambassador for change, we have done something amazing by giving consumers the ability to buy waste-free, so this cuts out the majority of the problem. Environmentally positive movements like this are always a work in progress. We have already managed to cut out 30% of our ordering waste through working closely with our suppliers to package items in paper and cardboard instead of plastic.
Can you tell me a bit about your partnership with Trees for the Future?
James: Every time a customer purchases from us, we contribute the money to Trees for the Future for a tree to be planted. Trees for the Future is not a glamorous charity with a big marketing budget, they are simply trying to help impoverished communities to plant more trees and improve their lives and the lives of their children. We plan on contributing enough money to have 10,000 trees planted in 2017, and in time, millions. The world really does need more trees for so many different reasons.
Other than shopping waste-free at a store like GoodFor, what changes can people implement to reduce their contribution to landfill?
James: It really is simple to almost completely wipe out your landfill contribution. All paper and cardboard should never go into your rubbish bin as it can easily be re-made into paper and cardboard again, in New Zealand, so just make sure you pop it in your recycling bin. Start shopping and looking for products that are not packaged, they exist. Take your empty jars and fill them at your local bulk food store, it is cheaper to shop this way. Absolutely refuse to purchase single use plastic drink bottles and please never use a plastic straw again! The very obvious and very easy one is to take reusable bags with you to the supermarket!
What are your hopes for the future of the zero-waste movement?
James: My hope is that society begins to respect the fact that the way we are currently shopping is not okay. I think that it is reasonable to assume that package-less shopping will be normal and available to everyone within the next three years. I also hope that supermarkets and brands that stock these products acknowledge that single use plastic is not all good, no matter how convenient it may be, thus hopefully driving the necessary changes. Cleaning up planet earth is a collective effort and not for just the conscious minority, we made the mess and it is up to us to sort it out. My aim is to make package-less shopping easy, cool and available to everyone!