California Reuse Collective: Creating a Support System in Turbulent Times
By Eva Holman, guest blogger
My friends, colleagues, and I created the California Reuse Collective during the first few months of COVID, as we watched reuse systems shut down all around us. Bags, coffee cups, public water access, bulk food shopping — using a reusable container of any kind became taboo and even worse, against the law. With the pandemic and fear of infection also came days, weeks, and months of dealing with the frustrations of watching these systems break down. The reuse movement has always been creative, empowering, and collaborative. Instead we spent those forced months indoors — baking sourdough loaves and sprouting scallion stems; sharing stories and ideas; and aching to continue the reuse movement work we love so much.
In the Bay Area (and beyond), the reuse movement is led by women – and often by women who own small businesses. These women are passionate about protecting the environment, supporting each other’s work and equity. We want a safe, livable planet for our families and Bay Area communities, and we look for solutions that create systems focused on making this a reality.
As a kid in the 1970s my family shopped at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. We filled our glass jars with beans and grains and shampoo, just like I do now with my son — at least until March. The Bay Area has become disposable in so many ways — food or meal prep kit delivery, Amazon for everything and Target for everything else.
We started the California Reuse Collective to ensure that businesses we love — like Rainbow Grocery and other bulk food and home goods shops and refill services — not only survive this pandemic, but continue to thrive and grow. We want to continue to have the option to skip pre-packaged and plastic-heavy convenience goods; this is our ultimate goal. Our collective is gathering and sharing information on how single-use plastic packaging migrates toxic chemicals into foods, and how plastic chokes and poisons the environment and communities surrounding fossil fuel and fracking extraction sites. We are supporting and championing reusable solutions for single-use problems and protecting human health.
The idea for Goods Holding Company’s tare weight-printed jars was hatched in the bulk aisles of Rainbow Grocery. For years, almost weekly, I would bring in a big laundry basket of empty jars, my baby boy strapped on my chest, and pre-weigh each jar, mark a sticker with the weight, put the sticker on the jar, and then start bulk shopping — all to avoid using plastic bags. What if someone made jars pre-printed with the tare weight? Wouldn’t that be dreamy? Wouldn’t that be easier? And now it is. Carolynn Box and I launched the company and started selling the jars about three years ago, and they continue to grow in popularity with bulk shoppers, pantry organizers, and bulk food and zero waste stores all over the US.
As a co-founder of Goods Holding Company, as well as the policy organizer of the environmental non-profit UPSTREAM, I get the opportunity to work with companies, cities, institutions, and NGOs focusing on implementing reuse systems and reusables. We have seen these products and services grow during COVID, and new reuse-focused companies are coming into the marketplace. At UPSTREAM we are leading and supporting policies being introduced widely in Bay Area cities and beyond to support reuse in restaurants, cafes, schools, and more.
I’m currently working with Sustainable Mill Valley on implementing a reusable program for take-out, which will support a policy Marin County is working towards passing post-COVID. Putting these systems in place while policy is being considered leads the way for others to adopt similar systems when the policy is implemented.
Each member of the California Reuse Collective has a story about how and why she had a calling to create a reusable alternative to a single-use problem — a way to make skipping packaging easier and better. We will continue to grow and expand the collective to collaborate and champion reusable options. We will continue to share resources with communities in the Bay Area and beyond. My message to this community is this — if you have an idea for a reusable solution to a single-use problem, do it. We need more solutions to offer those looking to move away from plastic and single-use disposables. Starting a small business is a complicated process – we had a lot of hiccups along the way. If you are starting the process and could use some guidance, reach out to me and I might be able to help you navigate the process. firstname.lastname@example.org