Zero Waste Emporium: Victoria’s first zero-waste grocery store, located downtown at 1728 Douglas, opened in August of 2018. Founded by Paula and Nairn McPhee—a marine biologist and an aquaculture technician, respectively—Zero Waste Emporium is trailblazing a waste-free way to shop on Vancouver Island.

After careers where they witnessed first-hand the damage plastic use has on our oceans, the McPhees started on a personal zero-waste journey that quickly morphed into a passion to share the same lifestyle with others. “We knew that simply educating and talking about the
plastic crisis we are facing wouldn’t be enough,” says Paula. “We wanted to provide something tangible and measurable—something that made a difference, that allowed people to actively reduce their overall waste and consumption. Nairn and I believe the best way forward with environmental stewardship are leading by example, showing people that zero waste can be simple, attainable, affordable, and enjoyable in daily life.” With their cheapest items clocking in at $1.50, the McPhees are staying true to their mission statement.

The emporium started as an online store affiliated with local farmers’ markets. But turning it into the current brick-and-mortar location was more complicated. Their first challenge was writing a business plan that considered customers who might know nothing about the zero-waste lifestyle. The next? Convincing prospective landlords that it would pay off. “Many landlords were not willing to take a chance on a business plan for a new store like ours,” says Paula. But the couple learned from sticking it out. “This business has allowed us to develop a deeper understanding of what entrepreneurship really is and has grown our appreciation for our community. We are not just a little store—we are part of something bigger that is helping reshape the future of our city as a whole. And it’s humbling to know that.”

With close to 40 local products, Zero Waste Emporium includes items such as package-free tofu and tempeh from both Green Cuisine and Salt Spring’s Soya Nova, grass-fed milk on tap from Parksville-based Morningstar Farm, Courtenay’s Tree Island Yogurt, vegan cheeses from Victoria’s The Cultured Nut and Armstrong’s Black Sheep Vegan Cheeze, and locally made vinegars from Spinnakers Brewpub. In the non-food department, the store stocks reusable menstrual products from Blushing Bluebird and is the only store in Canada to carry the
new Leaf safety razor made entirely of metal. “Vancouver Island is at the budding edge of everything green,” says Paula. “We are very proud to be change-makers and ambassadors within this beautiful movement towards the sustainability of our little island.”
Between the storefront and online shopping with package-free delivery, Zero Waste Emporium is helping Victoria complete its goal of being a zero-waste city by 2030, one product at a time.

— Emma Sloan

Photo Credit: Lauren Sortome