Filling up on Taste, Cutting Down on Waste: The Fillery, Brooklyn’s First Bulk Grocery Store


Thefillery exterior

Think of an average week of groceries. What does it look like for you? For most of us we can imagine filling a cart with a variety of different foods, each coming in their own separate packages. Cans of beans, bags of rice, and pre-packaged snacks aren’t unusual to find in a grocery haul. From one perspective a full shopping cart represents the week’s meals. This perspective can change dramatically when looking at a full cart through a waste conscious lens. How much plastic packaging has to be thrown out? How much food spoils before you’re able to eat it? Did you carry your items out in a paper or plastic bag, maybe even a reusable one? The speed and convenience of grocery stores has become a norm in our lives and unfortunately, so has the waste. While having access to a wide range of healthy and fulfilling foods does not have to go away, waste can be greatly reduced or even eliminated from the equation. The concern surrounding waste is an important one. Waste can contribute to climate change, landfills and ocean pollution, all things detrimental to every part of living ecosystems on the planet. Addressing this issue becomes increasingly important as residents of the Earth move toward more environmentally conscious lifestyles. 

With large amounts of waste generated daily it can seem like an insurmountable problem, but some innovative businesses are taking steps to change that. Meet Sarah Metz, the mind behind The Fillery, an upcoming bulk grocery store in Brooklyn New York. The store takes on a waste reducing business model, with plans to sell goods in bulk that patrons can fill their own containers with. Its focus goes beyond groceries as well, with plans to host seminars to teach community members about cooking and living healthier lifestyles. Metz’s interest in creating this sort of store stemmed from her already existing consciousness of environmental issues. She explains: 

I’ve always been an eco-conscious person, and one who loves to cook and eat healthily. These passions are only intensified by living in New York City: There is a very visible and seemingly insurmountable waste problem here, and my cooking and eating habits are inspired daily by the broad range of cultures I’m exposed to. Shopping at bulk/refill stores supports both of these interests – it allows me to try unique ingredients without having to commit to more of an item than what I actually need, thereby reducing food waste, and it eliminates unnecessary packaging. I shopped at By the Pound, a fantastic bulk store in Ann Arbor, Michigan more than 10 years ago, and there’s really nothing comparable in Brooklyn. This store certainly inspired me to start researching refill stores in other locations.

The idea for The Fillery became a reality when Metz took on the task of bringing a bulk grocery store to her area. After ten years of living there she felt that it was about time that Brooklyn had that type of store. Usthe fillery conceptual drawing-1.pnging the crowd funding platform Kickstarter, she was able to pass her originally intended goal of $15,000 dollars to start turning The Fillery into a reality. The decision to crowd fund the campaign was multifaceted. The publicity surrounding the campaign started to generate a conversation about the problem of waste as a whole, helping others see the world through this lens.

We chose to launch a campaign on Kickstarter for a few reasons: We wanted to create visibility and get a conversation going around plastic pollution, waste reduction, and the idea of creating change by offering community education and giving consumers more sustainable options. We also wanted to give members of our community a chance to be a part of the project.

-Sarah Metz

Metz’s commitment to community involvement is deep seated in her business model. In addition File Aug 01, 11 01 31 AMto being a store that empowers patrons to live waste-free lifestyles, The Fillery plans to offer cooking classes, and seminars on healthy living. Metz’s goal is to “go beyond providing people with the tools they need to live more healthily and sustainably — we want to provide community education on how to do so effectively.” The store’s values will even be reflected in its physical space. Metz explains that The Fillery will “use re-purposed and recycled materials whenever possible, and only non-toxic products which have minimal environmental impact.” It will be more than just a store, but also a place to connect with other people.

The Fillery’s deep commitment to waste reduction and community is something that showcases one of the many ways we can combat environmental degradation. When many people think of waste their thoughts go to reducing litter, making sure to recycle and keeping a compost bin. While all of these are positive steps to take in reducing waste, starting with making waste-conscious purchasing decisions gets closer to addressing the root of the problem. Stores that make it easier for consumers to make waste conscious choices help set off of a chain of waste-free business models. Metz believes that as this perspective becomes more popular it will make enabling this sort of business to succeed easier as well. This also relates to one of the challenges she has run into starting her business.

While it is our goal for The Fillery to send as little as possible to the landfill, we are learning that absolute Zero Waste for a starting business is not yet 100% feasible. There are many challenges associated with becoming a Zero Waste business, such as having to limit the vendors we work with and the products we offer to those that meet very strict packaging and shipping guidelines. Zero Waste businesses are also limited in the type of marketing materials and methods they use, which are key to the successful launch of a new business. As more business adopt zero waste strategies, these challenges will begin to disappear.

-Sarah Metz

The focus on empowering communities as well as providing them the tools they need to make positive lifestyle changes is something that resonates with our mission at Earthos. To build the jar2-1resilience in communities it requires a deep respect for its members and the ability to understand and work towards satisfying their needs. We believe that The Fillery’s mission aims to do this in a just and thorough way and we’re excited to see its development as time progresses (we might even need to pay a visit when it opens)! Combating waste and working to improve communities shows how The Fillery has a deep commitment to helping the members of its bioregion and helping us move toward a more sustainable planet. If you know of any similar stores in your bioregion or businesses working to reduce waste tell us about them! We always love learning about organizations with similar commitments to creating a more resilient planet.

The Fillery plans to launch an additional crowd funding campaign using Indiegogo which should be up sometime in the near future! For more information on The Fillery you can always find them on their website and Twitter.

Written by Earthos intern Omari Spears

Turning The Economy Around: How Circular Economies Can Strengthen Bioregions

How many miles did your shoes travel before they ended up on your feet? How about your shirt? Your cell phone? There is a good chance that many of you aren’t sure. Even as I type this out I don’t know where the plastic in my keyboard was sourced from, or even where my chair was manufactured. Every day we come in contact with a lot of products that have been sourced from all over the globe. This is part of how we’re able to live with some of the conveniences and luxuries that we do. I can eat an orange from Florida while living in Massachusetts, or use a table made of wood sourced from who knows where. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if buying affordable things you knew were produced locally and produced in a sustainable way was an option would you take it? This choice is one that can become easier to make as more and more businesses move toward adoption circular models.

The idea of a circular economy is pretty simple to understand. It’s an economy that works in a loop, for the benefit of everyone in the community. Certain trades can be taught to community members which leads to the production of certain goods and products which helps to stimulate the local economy. This cycle of education and production can ultimately lead to a healthy and self sufficient community. Here at Earthos this is incredibly relevant, as it has to do with functioning on the bioregional level in a just and sustainable way. A circular economy is also a lot more than an idealistic dream for the future, it’s something that is happening now!

Something important to understand is that circular economies can take shape at different scales. A whole area can have a circular economy, or a certain part of a business can operate in a circular way, there are many different options. To better understand what a circular economy is, seeing it in action helps. An example of a closed loop operation can be found  at Dell. When a Dell computer is made some of the manufacturing process makes use of plastic from older computers. Their site explains that “Using plastics recovered from technology collected through our recycling efforts to make new plastic parts gives these plastics an extended life, has a smaller carbon footprint and reduces costs.” They also use a graphic to illustrate the closed loop recycling process. [1]

DellGraphicDell illustrates how their closed-loop recycling system turns uses materials from old computers to create new ones.

In addition to Dell other companies have similar commitments in closed loop economies. A very recent example of a circular economy on a more community level is something like the organization Carbon Tanzania that we wrote about in a previous blog post, if you missed it you can check it out here! One particularly interesting example is a company named Circle Economy who’s focus is to move the world toward closed loop economic systems. Their website explains the importance of their project:

Circularity has a key part to play not only in dramatically reducing our footprint but also in shaping a visionary and practical future for our planet. It is about becoming inspired by the biological processes of nature while  retaining value at the heart of every design, manufacturing, and consumer decision – from renewable energy and remanufacturing of used parts to the ability for reuse designed into everything we consume.[2]

Started by Andy Riley (the mind behind Earth hour), his commitment to circular economic systems shows a deep understanding of what it takes to shift mindsets in the consumer world. His faith in circular economies comes from his idea that the right sorts of people can latch onto these ideals. He also believes that circular economies are not asking too much of people, just the willingness to adopt a change. Riley explains “A longstanding problem for the sustainability movement is that it’s tended to demand we stop this or that rather than offer attractive alternatives. The circular economy, however, isn’t saying we should stop consuming, it’s saying we should start consuming differently.”[3] This request for change isn’t that far fetched. Think about all of the environmentally conscious changes that have taken place in society recently, from energy efficient light bulbs, to composting becoming mainstream or something as new as fully electric cars. All of these actions help to walk people toward more environmentally conscious lifestyles.

Another interesting component of Riley’s philosophy is that ad agencies can be a positive driving force behind the adoption of circular economies. He claims that getting on board with the circular economy “isn’t just another ‘green’ thing” it’s something that has incentives for business as well. According to McKinsey circular economies could add up to $1 trillion to the global economy by 2025. They could also help to create new jobs, up to 100,000 in as little as five years. Moving toward a circular economy helps people, the planet and the economy.[4] This monetary incentive strikes a balance between adoption circular economic models for the sake of ecology and for the sake of profit. This helps it appeal to a wider audience.

The framework of bioregional urbanism is inherently addressed in these economy types as well. Growing produce within one’s bioregion to feed its people is an example of a circular system at play in the bioregion. Even something like biodiversity acts as a demonstration of how different species’ relations can be part of a healthy and productive ecosystem. Closed loop economic systems do a good job of illustrating the parallels between economics and ecology, and the ubiquitous nature of bioregional urbanism.

-Omari Spears

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