Tannis and Mara Bundi opened The Green Jar in December 2019 with the goal of making eco-friendly living more accessible to their community, but the idea had been brewing for quite some time.
The twin sisters grew up living a sustainable lifestyle and struggled to find ways to continue as they became adults and started having their own families. They were inspired by sustainable store models around the world in places like Switzerland, Germany and Jamaica, and when these types of stores starting popping up in Canada, they took cues from cities like Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal.
Bulk stores and refilleries were popular all over the world, but Tannis and Mara found there wasn’t in place in Toronto where people could get everything they needed in one place. So, In 2017, they decided to put their dreams into motion and open their store together on St. Clair West to offer safer, plant-based, Canadian alternatives to what was currently on the market.
We sat down with Tannis Bundi to talk about what it was like to start an eco-friendly store, how COVID-19 affected green initiatives and what we can expect from The Green Jar in the future.
What inspired you to open The Green Jar?
The idea of opening this business happened a little over 25 years ago. My sister and I were really frustrated with the lack of availability and ease when it came to finding sustainable places in the city. We grew up in an eco-friendly lifestyle and wanted to continue doing that as young adults but found it really difficult. We were running all over the city in order to find things in a bulk fashion and the single-use plastic issue was becoming more prevalent. We knew there had to be a way to make it more convenient and more accessible.
What was it like growing up in an eco-friendly household?
For the first five years of our lives, we grew up on a farm so we had a very sustainable and resourceful lifestyle there. We made our own butter and got our own eggs out in the chicken coop; it was a very low-waste lifestyle. Our mother and grandmother were heavy influencers. They taught us how to make our own deodorant and toothpaste, how to ferment cheeses and how to make our own yogurt.
As a young adult I was making my own maxi pads and toothpaste but still had a hard time finding those resources. Then, as a young mother, I wanted to maintain that lifestyle and teach that to my kids so they grew up in a household where they knew there were healthier alternatives and where they felt confident knowing they could provide those resources for themselves.
What has been the most rewarding part of opening your own business?
It’s been really exciting to see how eager our community is to make an eco-friendly change and how quickly people have warmed to the idea. People were really excited to be able to reuse their containers and purchase just what they needed. We wanted to reduce single-use plastic but we also wanted to reduce household waste.
What has been the hardest part of opening your own business?
I truly think the most challenging part has been this pandemic. We were two months old and just starting to get comfortable with a routine. People were coming in with their containers and refilling, and we were creating really great relationships with our customers. Then we had to close our doors. We were quickly forced to create an e-commerce platform. So, the most challenging part was trying to figure out how to rewrite our business model.
The other challenge was that we still needed to be able to provide products to customers but we couldn’t use their containers. We were selling new glass containers which we felt really awful about it because it didn’t align with our mission to support a circular economy. So, we had to figure out a bottle deposit system to get those bottles back into our store and sanitize them. Everyone has been really supportive and patient and we’ve had a lot of wrinkles but we’re still alive, so that’s great!
How have you seen COVID-19 impact green initiatives?
Earlier in the summer, CBC reported plastic consumption had gone up over 300 per cent. That was alarming and really upsetting because it just completely went against everything we were trying to support. Luckily there has been other research to support the fact that it’s safe enough to use your reusables. So, when we did reopen in the summer, we had a system where we asked customers to bring their containers in clean and dry and then we would just quickly sanitize them with a UVC light. During this lockdown, we’ve gone back to not asking people to bring in their reusables because the numbers are so high.
Do you have any plans for expanding The Green Jar’s reach in the future?
We’re really eager to maintain a relationship in Regal Heights, although the idea of maybe opening a smaller satellite store would be really exciting. We want to make eco-friendly products more accessible in parts of the city where people may not have access to this type of model.
We also had grand plans of having workshops and teaching customers how to make their own laundry soap, toothpaste and deodorant. Given the current lockdown, we might do some Zoom private shopping where we can book some time with a customer and walk them through the store to answer any questions they have about starting an eco-friendly lifestyle or trying out any products we have.
How can our individual actions make a difference when it comes to sustainability?
There’s an amazing quote by Desmond Tutu: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Each of our own small actions really does build up to something quite grand. Just the idea that a whole dump truck of plastic goes into our ocean every minute is quite profound. So, if we individually take responsibility and ownership to say: I’m not going to throw out this piece of plastic. I’m going to reuse and repurpose it in some fashion, you’re that one person that’s prevented that one piece of plastic from joining the dump truck.