For her rustic and reused-themed wedding Jenny Connell took a friend’s mother up on an offer of mismatched dishes and cutlery that otherwise sits in boxes 363 days of the year — brought out only for the annual Amnesty International and Machik dinners.
Afterwards Jenny and her husband, Sam, rolled up their sleeves, cleaned off the dishes, and before heading off on their honeymoon, returned them (along with a donation to Amnesty International).
When I heard this my thought was: Here is a young woman who is frugal and pragmatic, socially responsible, and not afraid to chart her own course.
Those are qualities she’ll need in her new venture. On Jan. 15 Jenny will open Unwrapped, described on her website as Lindsay’s first zero waste and sustainable living store, offering plastic-free replacements for everyday items and bulk refills of natural and Canadian-made personal care and household cleaning products.
No question there’s a need. Just consider a few facts the City’s environmental advisory committee shared with council in November:
*Canadians use 15 billion plastic bags a year.
*Of all the plastics we conscientiously chuck into our blue bins just nine per cent is actually recycled.
*Virtually every piece of plastic manufactured since it started to become widespread in the 1950s is still on the planet in some form.
And Jenny’s timing couldn’t be better: In late November council passed a voluntary ban on single-use plastics for Kawartha Lakes.
To find out more about Jenny and her business, I arrange to meet over coffee at Boiling Over. She arrives — and this shouldn’t surprise anyone — with a travel mug.
So, what has led a 34-year-old Ross Memorial nurse with limited business experience and two young children (four-year-old Emmy and two-year-old Louise) to open an independent zero-waste shop?
“I’d always called myself an environmentalist,” Jenny tells me, “but more recently, after having kids, I realized how much packaging comes with everything. When I was home with the kids I was more conscious and mindful of my choices.”
Jenny isn’t yet at the levels of waste reduction achieved by her personal hero, Bea Johnson (the Zero Waste Home author whose family generates just one quart/litre of garbage a year), but she’s been doing everything she can. She and her family use bamboo toothbrushes, and cloths instead of paper towels. Her cleaners are homemade from vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. She takes her own containers to Burns Bulk Food.
Frustratingly, for a number of products she’s had to drive to Peterborough. A trip to Peterborough to refill shampoo was not environmentally smart.
Jenny saw a need for a local business. “People want to make a change, but it has to be convenient,” she says.
She envisioned a store to which customers would bring their own containers. All items — everything from natural brushes and cleaners to reusable tea bags — would come unwrapped, which, on reflection, seemed like a catchy store name.
Starting a Business
Research first. Jenny visited eco-businesses and collected ideas from Instagram. Friends and neighbours made requests for items such as shampoo bars and cosmetics.
Wherever possible she found and ordered from Canadian sources. Only a handful of products will be from the U.S., and only brushes from Germany come from further afield.
Best of all, in her view, was sourcing locally. From Cheeks Ahoy, based in Fowler’s Corners, she’s ordered flannel Unpaper Towels, which can be washed and reused hundreds of times. From here in Lindsay she’s ordered dishcloths and baskets crocheted by Robinglade Yarnworks.
Jenny had always supported and been drawn to Lindsay’s downtown and in October, Steve Podolsky, a landlord and vice-chair of Lindsay downtown Business Improvement Area, let her know 101 Kent Street had become available.
Longtime residents will remember it as Pilkington’s: smokes at the counter, walls lined with racks of magazines. In Jenny’s eyes it’s perfect: pressed-tin-covered walls and 12-foot (3.6-metre) ceiling, original hardwood floors. All that’s been needed has been minor painting and a storefront sign ordered from a local business, Auto Trim Design and Sign.
As she prepares for the opening, Jenny is, she says, “in equal parts excited and terrified.” It’s a little daunting going it alone, she admits, and for her financing she’s relying on personal savings and support from family — no angel investors or business loans.
She’s grateful for support that’s taken many forms. Her parents have provided childcare. Tradespeople, including an electrician friend, have assisted; other friends helped with the painting. From Louise Scully, owner of Sweet Annie’s, she’s had business advice. “Without that I wouldn’t have been able to jump in,” she tells me.
Her hope is that Unwrapped customers will find they can save some money (since they won’t be paying for packaging) while doing something good for the environment. For Jenny, personally, it’s about sustainability, and the future she wants for her children.
A Modest Proposal
The City’s voluntary single-use-plastic ban rests on the premise that we all want to do the right thing to reduce our environmental footprint.
But as Jenny points out, in a world full of plastic it’s not realistic to expect everyone to eliminate it from their lives.
“It’s important to just make one small change at a time,” she says. “Once you’re comfortable with that, add another.”
The one I’ll be starting with, in place of my plastic-wrapped packs of plastic-handled razors (brought home in a plastic bag) — is the stainless steel safety razor Unwrapped will be carrying, a version of which served my dad well for many decades.
For you? You’ll find lots of possibilities at Unwrapped.