by Margaux Ortiz Fabreag
While it has been said that imitation is the best form of flattery, JuanaZero’s Mary Grace Draper sees replication as the best manifestation of victory.
Mary Grace knew that JuanaZero, the Zero Waste shop of Mother Earth Foundation (MEF), was one step closer to achieving its goal of making more people embrace a Zero Waste lifestyle when a local sari-sari store owner started adopting their Zero Waste business practices.
“The store owner has replicated our refilling system in selling fish sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, and cooking oil,” Mary Grace said in Filipino. The sari-sari store’s customers are now required to bring empty containers when purchasing these condiments.
Mary Grace, who is assigned to oversee JuanaZero’s branch in Malabon City, Philippines, explained that aside from enabling both reseller and customer to save on costs by avoiding single-use plastic, JuanaZero passes on even more savings by purchasing and selling products manufactured in the city and nearby Navotas City.
Since opening its doors in September 2020, the store has been attracting more and more customers, according to Mary Grace. On the average, around five or six people bringing ecobags drop by their shop each day to purchase goods that they would consume for one or two weeks.
“It has only been a few months since we opened following the lifting of the strict COVID-related quarantines,” Mary Grace said. “We are hopeful that more people from our community will be convinced to go Zero Waste.”
Maricon Alvarez, program manager at MEF, explained that the initiative hopes to provide better alternatives to plastic products by selling metal cutleries, glass and metal straws, stainless cups, and other reusable items
JuanaZero also offers household essentials such as detergent powder, dishwashing liquid, and rice grains in addition to popular Filipino condiments.
“Our goal is a sustainable and Zero Waste community where people have access to affordable yet eco-friendly, Zero Waste products for their basic needs,” Maricon explained.
JuanaZero aims to achieve this goal by promoting and offering an alternative and accessible Zero Waste store in the community that is also supportive of the local economy.
“It is really a dream, a goal, and a part of the advocacy of MEF as an organization to offer this Zero Waste store especially in our project sites where we still see residual wastes composed of single-use plastics, despite the communities’ awareness of the importance of segregation,” Maricon said. She explained that an important part of the program is to establish an alternative delivery system that offers eco-friendly and reasonably priced products.
What makes JuanaZero different from other stores embracing the Zero Waste concept, according to Maricon, is its target audience. Instead of catering to the usual middle- to high-income market, JuanaZero targets the members of the local community.
“We first started convincing our waste workers to patronize the shop,” Maricon said. The team also drafted basic educational materials explaining to the community how they would actually be able to save on costs when they choose to buy from the JuanaZero store.
One such material detailed that customers could purchase a liter of cooking oil for only P80, as opposed to buying “tingi tingi” or small batches for P5 or P10 per plastic bag that could add up to P120 a liter.
“Their savings are considerable when they bring reusable containers in purchasing liquid essentials such as cooking oil, fabric conditioner, dishwashing liquid, and condiments,” Mary Grace explained.
More importantly, the community undergoes a paradigm shift as regards the concept of Zero Waste. They have learned to purchase several kilos of rice with their reusable eco-bags instead of buying three separate kilos of rice for each meal of the day. This wasteful practice usually involves the unnecessary use of a plastic bag for each purchase.
JuanaZero also serves another noble purpose: all its proceeds go to MEF’s Waste Workers’ Scholarship Fund, according to Maricon.
“We seek to help the unsung heroes of Zero Waste by providing scholarships and financing their children’s education expenses,” she said.
She added that the store’s profits also financed two of the foundation’s projects that assisted communities during the COVID-19 lockdown: a community kitchen called Kusina ni Juan, and the distribution of Zero Waste kits that contained reusable face masks and gloves, vitamins, and vegetables.
Maricon shared that they are planning to expand their operations and are currently on the lookout for new products to offer. They hope that these products can compete in the market and more importantly, address the true meaning of Zero Waste as a concept and advocacy.
Maricon and her team are now promoting JuanaZero on social media platforms, with their partner Zero Waste communities, and through participation in caravans and exhibits.
“We are aiming for JuanaZero to have its own brand to help more waste workers,” she said.
Photos courtesy of JuanaZero.
This article is part of the book, BUSINESS UNUSUAL: Enterprises paving the way to Zero Waste, a collection of feature articles on select enterprises in Asia Pacific that practice and promote Zero Waste principles. Published by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, the publication may be downloaded for free at www.no-burn.org/Business-Unusual.