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Meet Trang Trinh

Q: Ok, first of all, Trang, what is a zero waste store?

Zero waste stores sell goods in bulk, with minimal packaging and without single-use plastic. People bring their own jars and containers to refill common household items like grains, spices, tea, soaps, detergents, and so on. The stores usually also sell containers or provide donated jars to use. The goal is to minimize single-use plastic waste as much as possible from our daily lives. 

While zero-waste (or bulk)  stores aren’t new, they are more common now with the increased focus on sustainability and climate change. You can find local zero-waste shops in the letsgozerowaste directory.

Q: What inspired you to leave your previous job to start a zero waste store?

Do you remember a video of marine biologists removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nostril in Costa Rica? It went viral on the internet and caused quite a stir at that time. After seeing it, I knew that I had to commit to meaningful changes in reducing plastic waste in my everyday life. 

By the way, when I moved to Watertown in 2018 and found the Buy Nothing Community on Facebook, it felt like I was in the right place! This community helped me get into the habit of upcycling and recycling.

I found I loved going to zero-waste stores to try out different products and to talk to the shop owners. No store is exactly the same, and you can see the care and passion each person puts into their shop. It’s been fun discovering eco-friendly products and learning to make do with what I have, fixing things up rather than buying new things. I started dreaming about having my own store, what sort of things I would carry, what impact would I have on sustainability, and how this place would bring the community together. 

Last July, I decided to leave my corporate job to commit to my vision of Green Tiger &  Co. We’ll open at Bow Market, in Union Square, Somerville, on July 19th!

Q: That’s exciting! What is your vision for Green Tiger & Co.? What types of products will you offer to help your customers move toward a zero waste lifestyle?

Green Tiger & Co.’s goal is to be a place of discovery and appreciation for the people, community, and planet. The product selection centers around the simple idea that what’s good for you is also good for the planet. This means less exposure to single-use plastic and harmful ingredients, less waste, and a sense of belonging or engagement with the community. 

There’s a refill station where you can stock up household products like laundry detergent, dish and hand soaps, general cleaning, body wash, shampoos and conditioners. You’re welcome to bring your own container to refill, purchase from the store, or take a free jar from the donated library. We have eco-friendly essentials such as reusable utensils, compostable sponges, brushes, and silk floss to help make the transition to sustainable living easier. Apart from the refilling station, the shop also carries goods that emphasize on sustainable ingredients and natural materials with minimal packaging. 

To me, being sustainable also means shopping locally as much as possible, so we prioritize goods from makers in the New England area. Our bar soaps are from Red Antler Apothecary in Lowell. We have these beautiful reusable bags from Forest Bound, which is based in Amesbury. There are balms and salves made in small batches from farm-grown herbs in Saco, Maine. 

We’re also creating a mini library with books about zero waste/sustainable living, well-being, and other topics relating to the environment. This will be a free resource for the community. If you have suggestions or a book you’d like to donate, please send them my way! 

Q. How is the local community responding so far? 

While we haven’t opened yet, it has been amazing to hear positive feedback and excitement from the community. I was setting up the store the other day and someone walked in and told me how happy they are that we’re opening here. It brings me absolute joy to think that the store would create a positive impact in the community.

Q. Will you follow specific practices to maintain a zero waste operation in the store?

Our intention is to minimize waste and plastic use as much as possible in the day to day operation. The term zero-waste doesn’t mean absolutely no waste, which is impossible to achieve. It’s about prioritizing a circular approach in the way we deal with waste, especially single use plastics so they don’t end up in our landfills and oceans. 

So that means we prioritize reuse and repurpose of the boxes and packaging we receive from our vendors. We still have a small amount of hard-to-recycled plastics like films and clings from setting up our store or the shipping packages, which we send to TerraCycle so they’re properly recycled. We furnished our store with mostly vintage and secondhand items. We wrap our products in recycled Kraft paper and use water-activated paper tapes instead of plastic packaging tapes to ship out our online orders. And of course, if there’s anything we no longer need that I think someone would find useful, I would post it to our Buy Nothing Group. 

It takes more effort and sometimes additional costs but I can’t imagine operating another way.

Q. How do you source products so that you know they are aligned with your mission?

It starts with evaluating the vendors. Being a zero-waste and sustainable goods store, it’s important for us to work with brands that share our values. This means products are made with safe ingredients and packaging that prioritizes minimizing waste and environmental impact.

Many vendors we work with are B-Corp Certified and participate in a closed-loop system. For example, one of our vendors is Meliora who makes powder laundry detergents and cleaning products without harmful ingredients. We receive their products in these 5 gallon plastic pails and once we’re done, we will send them back to Meliora to be sanitized and reused for another shop. There’s also Good Flower Farm who makes skincare products from herbs produced with regenerative farming methods. 

We understand that not all brands can have certifications even though they’re invested in sustainable practices, so we don’t strictly source only from brands that have them. A big part of our intention is to support the local makers, artisans, and small businesses like ourselves. We’re still learning and will continue to make adjustments as we grow.

Q. What’s been most rewarding as you’ve been creating the store and getting ready to open next week?

The most rewarding part has been the connection I make with people! Prior to starting Green Tiger, I reached out to you, Nicole, and you introduced me to Eileen Ryan, founder and leader of Beyond Plastics Greater Boston. After joining this group, I learned about the grassroots movement of people working together to reduce plastic pollution across the cities. I also enjoy speaking to other zero-waste shop’s owners like Sabrina Auclair of Unpacked Living (Beverly), Sarah Levy of Cleenland (Cambridge), Shara Ertel of Fulfilled Goods (Newton), and Meghann Lazott of the Glass Jar (Dennis). 

It feels great to see the positive actions taken everywhere, and it also reminds me that I’m a part of something bigger.

Q. In closing, Trang, can you suggest resources for people who want to learn more about zero waste living?

Of course! Speaking from experience, I’d encourage people to rethink their consumption first of all. Reusing is always better than buying new even if it’s made sustainably. There are many books on this topic. The first book I read was Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home. There’s also Kathryn Kellogg’s 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste. 

On Facebook, Zero Waste Beginners Boston Area and Zero Waste Cambridge MA groups are both great resources to ask questions and get recommendations.

There’s also the Watertown Rethink Consumption Facebook group and of course the Buy Nothing Watertown groups (Northeast, South, Northwest and Southwest).

It’s important to remember balance. What works for someone doesn’t mean it will work for you because we all have different lifestyles and means.

Also, living a sustainable lifestyle doesn’t have to be perfectly zero-waste all the time. Everything we do counts - bringing a reusable bag, getting coffee in a reusable cup, cooking a plant-based meal, shopping small, buying from farmers’ markets, and growing your own vegetables. We’re all doing our best.

Have fun on your zero waste journey!


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