The story behind Ecoindian’s zero-waste grocery store in Chennai

By Ujjvala KaumudionSep. 20, 2019in Environment and Ecology

Ecoindian is the first zero-waste grocery store in South India   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With reusable packaging, discarded jars for storage, and discounts for refills, Chennai’s first zero-waste grocery store is in Mylapore

On a blazing summer afternoon in Ranga Street, Mylapore resident Usha Kumar noticed a new shop — the Ecoindian – Zerowaste Store — built in her neighbourhood. Member of her area’s solid waste management group, Usha believes that no plastic is biodegradable to begin with. Which is why, the shop’s philosophy, which ensures that no part of their operations of procurement, sales and storage generates any waste that will end up in a landfill, appealed to her.

The first zero-waste grocery store in South India, Ecoindian has been around since 2018, but until March, it was just an organic store. “The plastic ban in Chennai in January gave us the momentum to transform our operations to zero-waste,” says Prem Antony who co-founded Ecoindian with his childhood friend N Pradeep Kumar. The store is the third in the country to turn completely zero-waste, after Ecoposro in Goa and Adrish Zero-waste Organic Store in Pune. The duo sells groceries, products from local sustainable brands of food and biodegradable decor.

Ecoindian’s efforts to remain zero-waste begin right at the procurement stage. By employing sellers who would only deliver products with reusable packaging and minimal branding, Prem and Pradrep save a margin of five to 10% on the price, which is transferred to the customers in the way of discounts. Supplier-retailer relationship proves key to build a zero-waste supply chain: “most of our previous suppliers shifted to zero-waste supply methods once we told them of our efforts,” shares Prem. This is essential for the plastic ban to be fruitful — customers are forced to stop using polythene bags, but vendors continue to pack in plastic.

The philosophy of zero-waste lifestyle, founded by British scientist Paul Connett, encourages redesigning lifestyles so that all products are reused. The idea runs seamlessly through Ecoindian’s sales efforts; the glass jars that form a significant proportion of the storage were found lying unused at a warehouse in Parry’s. Rice is stored in cannisters and oil in steel dispensers — all methods that were once prevalent before the plastic revolution. The products are sold in cotton bags of different sizes. The customers are also given a 5% discount if they bring back the used jars for a refill. Says Usha, “Our country had a culture of reusing products, but the unending clamour of consumerism made us eco-destructive.”

Is the initiative 100% waste proof? Not yet. Prem says, “The only problem lies in post sales when we have to deal with little elements of packaging like tapes and sheets of paper.” The store houses many Chennai-based brands like aba probiotic, Ecofemme, Jyo’s Pickles and Auroway.

The two do not wish to scale up their operations but aim to give the environment protection discussion an intersectional platform. “We want to use this space for activities such as awareness programmes and workshops to help people reduce waste right in their kitchens” says Pradeep while pointing that kitchens generate the most waste in the household.

“We are at the climax of humanity, it’s time we act and act fast,” grimaces Prem.

First published by The Hindu on 16 May 2019

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