Milwaukee no waste, bulk store allows people to 'live in line with their ethics'
Landfills represent the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the nation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. An important step in the fight against climate change is to reduce the amount of household waste we produce.
Jenna Meier was already doing just that a few years ago, when she was a new mother and had quit her corporate job. “I became a stay-at-home mom with my first son, I kind of was diving into all things sustainable living because I had some time to do it, right?” she shares.
Meier shopped for organic food, household cleaners and such, bought in bulk to reduce packaging and saw the amount of garbage her family was creating shrink.
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But she found herself driving all over town to buy what she was looking for and thought it would be nice to have a store that had everything she wanted in one place.
So Meier created it. The business she started, called The Glass Pantry, is located in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. In the light-filled, 140-year-old building, shoppers come here to buy household products in bulk — everything from shampoo to cleaning supplies, as well as kitchen basics.
“We can get so many food products locally that I don’t think people know about, like we have rice grown in Wisconsin and you can get all the flour and oats and tea and coffee and all that made locally and you don’t have to have it shipped all over the country or all over the world,” she says.
Meier carries the products of approximately 45 local makers.
Customers can fill up glass jars — donated to the store — or paper bags Meier keeps on hand. But she says regulars bring their own: “You can roll up here with all your Tupperware, and your Ziplock bags and all your glass jars. Some people come with big tote bins and load up 10 pounds of flour. It’s totally up to up to you.”
I met shopper Siana Beukema at her home. Beukema says she feels she’s making a difference by buying in bulk.
“The things that I get without packaging I’m really proud of because I feel like it’s not an easy thing and a lot of people don’t have access to that, so it’s not something everyone can do. Back in my hometown, I wouldn’t have access to any place like The Glass Pantry. So I’m very fortunate to live where I do, where I can access that and I have the funds to do so," she says.
Back at The Glass Pantry, one of the store’s most popular, locally-produced items is being delivered by its maker. Morgan Finley, whose business is Viren Apothecary, calls it the toilet bomb. “So they’re sturdy little cubes that dissolve in the toilet and then it just takes a little brush and flush,” she explains.
It’s one in a line of eco-friendly cleaning products Finley has created.
“I did about six months of research before I ever had made anything,” she says. “When I’m interested in something I really like to learn everything I can about it, but I didn’t have a huge science background before, I actually went to school for poetry.”
Yes, poetry. But she was inspired to shift from words to eco-cleaners. “I really felt like there was a niche that I could serve by being able to offer these products in places that were going to have bulk refill,” Finley says.
Meier, who started The Glass Pantry, says her business, and those who create the products she carries, are designed to help customers incorporate sustainability into their lives.
“The point of starting this store is that people shouldn’t have to work so hard to live in line with their ethics. It should be easy. We should make it accessible and affordable and easy for people to do that,” she says.
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