The Scoop: Many singles and couples want to reduce their carbon footprint by producing less consumer waste. But with so many retail and grocery items coming in disposable plastic packaging, that isn’t always easy. Precycle, a Brooklyn market, set out to solve that problem by eliminating plastics from its store. People who visit the zero-waste Precycle market bring their own containers to fill with spices, produce, and other ingredients for a fresh meal.
In 2015, Katerina Bogatireva started to recognize just how much consumer waste she produced, and she found the primary culprit was packaging from food containers.
Despite being a single working mother, she made it her priority to use less packaging and make a positive impact on the environment.
“I looked at my trash can to figure out how to minimize it. I started paying attention, going to different stores, and buying things with as little packaging as possible,” Katerina told us.
Katerina made a significant effort to produce less waste. That meant bringing her own reusable containers to stores and buying in bulk when she could. Though she made more ecologically friendly choices, she also recognized how much harder it was to shop the way she did.
That’s when Katerina came up with the idea for Precycle, a market that allows customers to buy food, home goods, and beauty products without packaging. Shoppers bring their own containers or purchase containers or paper sacks to carry their items home. The ultimate goal is to make zero-waste living easier for singles and couples in Brooklyn.
“I decided to create a store for people trying to make a difference. I thought of myself. What would the store I wanted to shop in look like? What would I want to buy?” Katerina said.
After years of planning, Precycle opened in 2018. Over the last three years in operation, Katerina and her team have expanded the inventory based on the desires of zero-waste and low-waste shoppers.
As consumers let her know what they’d like to see on the shelves, Katerina continues to add more products. And though she said she imagined the shop would be a neighborhood grocery, Precycle attracts shoppers from around New York who take the train to her market.
The Benefits are Vast
Low-waste and zero-waste lifestyles are becoming more popular for singles and couples around the United States. The idea centers around the fact that Americans make more trash than the Earth can support.
Each year, Americans generate 268 million tons of waste. Though they can recycle much of that material, it doesn’t always happen. Instead, 19.2% of landfill items are plastics, and 13.1% are paper products — both of which are recyclable.
The average American produces about 4.5 pounds of waste per day, compared to the global average of 1.6 pounds. Though much of that waste is recyclable, the energy consequences of recycling aren’t ideal, either.
In a zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle, consumers use products that don’t need to be recycled, at least not every time. Many also aim to compost their food waste, which takes up the greatest proportion of landfill space at 21.9%.
The Center for EcoTechnology provides a few other suggestions. They include:
- Reusing items as many times as possible until they are no longer functional. Think glass containers, durable clothing, and reusable coffee mugs.
- Repair items instead of replacing them.
- Reduce consumption if possible; for instance, don’t over-buy perishable produce that you will need to throw out.
- Only recycle when what you own has reached the end of its functionality.
A low-waste or zero-waste lifestyle can be more affordable than the alternative. Though some couples may think they have to spend more money to be eco-conscious, that isn’t the truth.
“Zero waste does have a reputation of costing more, and I want to change that. That’s my next project,” Katerina said.
Using Less Packaging is Easier Than You Think
Couples or roommates who commit to producing less waste are often more successful. In 2019, Katerina and the Precycle team worked with grad students from Columbia University’s Sustainability School to determine the barriers to a low-waste lifestyle. They discovered that if one partner is interested in reducing waste and the other is not, it is less likely that person will succeed.
Precycle simplifies producing less waste because singles and couples can purchase everything they need for a vegan or vegetarian meal at the store. The market doesn’t carry meat.
A couple could come in with a date night meal in mind and purchase the spices, produce, oils, vinegar, fruits, and nuts they need to cook. Precycle also stocks tofu, which has become a popular product.
“We source it through a local company, so it doesn’t come in plastic. They bring it in a five-gallon bucket and then take the buckets back to reuse them. If they brought them in a plastic tub, it would defeat the purpose,” Katerina said with a laugh.
All of the market’s products are hyperlocal, which means less energy waste during transport.
Many Precycle shoppers bring their own containers to store what they purchase. When they enter the store, they weigh the container, then fill it with their items. At checkout, they weigh the full container again to determine its cost.
Precycle stocks containers and paper bags to make it more convenient for shoppers who can’t bring containers from home.
“Bringing your own containers can be an involved process. It’s great if someone can do it, but it’s not always possible to carry around an empty jar. We want to make sure we include everyone,” said Katerina.
Precycle: Promoting Environmentally Friendly Practices in Brooklyn and Beyond
In the three years since Precycle opened, Katerina has grown the business significantly, including expanding her team from three part-time employees to eight.
“Everyone is passionate about the mission and interested in helping others reduce their waste,” she said.
The store attracts singles and couples who live in the neighborhood and those who travel by train to stock up. The market attracts shoppers of all ages.
Precycle was able to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic because of its devoted customer base. Katerina said she feels that she has learned from her clients, as they have from her.
“We see their progress, and that’s key. It’s not about being completely plastic- and packaging-free overnight, but every little bit feels good. I can relate to that experience. Every battle won feels good and then becomes part of your life,” she said.
Still, Katerina said she wants to make Precycle even more accessible to help eco-conscious consumers reduce their waste. That’s why it plans to launch a delivery service this year.
Katerina said she also plans to expand the Precycle concept, so other entrepreneurs can open similar stores around the country. She said she is even more excited about reducing waste and simplifying the lifestyle than she was three years ago.
“I’m a lucky person because I do what I love and what I believe in. I’m happy waking up and going to work, and I’m happy coming back. It doesn’t feel like work,” Katerina told us.