A zero-waste lifestyle is something more people are aspiring to as they become aware of the issue of overconsumption and waste and it’s effects on the environment and ultimately human and animal life.

While many are quick to point their finger at waste, there are those like Bronwyn Green and her family who are actively doing something about it while also helping others to take practical steps towards reducing waste as well. Bronwyn, her husband Dave Phillips and mum Heather Browning are passionate about the environment and the conservation of wildlife; which inspired them to open a 100% zero waste store right here in Palmerston North, aptly named ‘Be Free Grocer’.

Bronwyn Green

Bronwyn and Dave met in Borneo, Malaysia where they worked for a conservation group ‘Orangutan Project’. Returning to New Zealand they wanted to continue to do what they are most passionate about – wildlife conservation. However, while New Zealand has its own beautiful native wildlife, there are fewer opportunities for paid work in the field. Mulling over what she could do next, Bronwyn got the idea and the opportunity to open up her 100% zero waste store.

As with anyone starting up a business, there was a lot to learn and a lot of paperwork to get through from getting the necessary permits to finding the perfect location for the shop. Bronwyn says her mom Heather was a great help to her in this area helping her research and do the necessary paperwork. Be Free Grocer, therefore, is “truly a family operation” she says. Though it was challenging to work through and learn all the rules and regulations, Bronwyn says she was motivated to keep going because she saw her shop as a way through which she could actively help reduce waste while also educating and creating awareness in the community about environment and wildlife conservation.

When asked if the shop has a target customer, Bronwyn says she specifically did not want to have a target demographic. The products sold at Be Free Grocer have been affordably priced ensuring more people are able to shop plastic and waste-free, and make an impact.  

Be Free Grocer stocks a variety of items from pantry staples to cleaning products, personal care, sanitary items and even fabric bunting (reusable decorations) made by our very own ‘bunting ladies’ right here in Palmy. All products are carefully sourced and many items, like the cleaning and personal care ranges, are made locally by other small business owners and entrepreneurs. Reducing the carbon footprint – the distance a product has traveled from production to the shelf – is a very important aspect of conservation. Most of us don’t have an alternative but to purchase what’s available at the local shops. But when a shop is mindful about carbon footprints among other things and prices their items reasonably, the option to shop more sustainably opens up to the everyday person.

Having a small marketing budget Bronwyn says her options were limited when it came to creating awareness about her shop initially. However, Bronwyn has skillfully used social media to create awareness and draw people in. This along with positive word of mouth and customers sharing their first-hand experience at the shop has been the main ‘marketing’ tools she has relied on most. However, they have done some mass media advertising recently, using radio and an ad on the back of a bus as well. “I believe the aesthetics of the shop and the fact that we as a family who genuinely care about the environment also helps attract customers,” says Bronwyn “people know when you are genuine and when you are not” she says. Bronwyn says her shop attracts three types of customer; people from out of town – who usually like to make purchases from the personal care range; people from town – who shop regularly for their staples; and there are some customers who come to purchase a specific product they can’t get anywhere else. 

Bronwyn says when making the initial decision on what products to carry in the shop she asked the customer what they wanted. Having received their feedback she then made her decisions. This is something she still tries to do, “if we have enough requests for a particular product then we would try to stock it at the shop” says Bronwyn. When asked if she had a favourite product or products she smiles and says she loves everything that she sells because they are so carefully sources and helps her achieve her goal of zero waste. But she says she does have a few items that are special to her; this list is an eclectic collection of items including the gluten-free pasta and pesto, hemp seeds, castile soap, and the ‘love and care’ personal care range are among them.

As someone that is just getting into actively reducing waste myself, I asked Bronwyn for some practical tips she could share, that I can practice at home. I was expecting a list of dos and don’ts as I see on the internet. But instead, she simply said, “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing”. Bronwyn says the best way to go about it is to start small, in one area of consumption – be it in the pantry, with personal care items, cleaning products, etc. And as we run out of something and need to replace it we can choose to go plastic/waste-free and also choose items that don’t contain harmful chemicals. Bronwyn also says it’s very important to always choose “reuse” over “recycle” or even composting. The raw material, energy and other resources that go into making something that we use just once – like a paper bag, is so great that even if we compost it there is a waste of recourses and energy; therefore it’s best to always reuse something we already have. So looking at that practically, next time you shop for fresh produce and pantry staples look at taking along some drawstring fabric bags that you can use over and over and which you can make out of soft old t-shirts or other clothing items you no longer wear.

Be Free Grocer and the people behind it are truly inspiring and are gently convincing a lot of people to make practical and effective changes to their consumption and purchasing habits. Be Free Grocer is located at The Square edge in Palmerston North and is open every day except Monday. 

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