GETTY IMAGES; CHLOE KRMMEL / MEN’S HEALTH ILLUSTRATION
You’ve heard of the Great Resignation, but resigning from your job is just one way to throw in the towel can be a great way to get ahead. This story is part of a Men’s Health series about how real quitters have become winners — and how you can join them.
MY FAMILY WAS not growing up particularly sustainably. My mom regularly served Hamburger Helper for dinner. Then, one day at my high school in Circle Pines, Minn., We had a tree planting day. I do not know why, but it is always stuck with me. My dad and I listened to a lot of soul music together, and Marvin Gaye’s album “Mercy Mercy Me” about environmental justice really resonated.
At one point, we took a trip to San Francisco where everything seemed bigger and more exciting than the Midwest. When some of my friends at Grand Valley State University decided in 2007 to move to San Francisco after graduation, it just felt natural to join them.
Sustainability seemed like the standard there. The buses were electric, there were bike lanes everywhere and recycling and compost bins went hand-in-hand with the bin. I have already started eating mostly plant-based meals, but the Bay is also home to one of the most progressive waste management companies in the country, Recology. They make it very easy to be sustainable, and offer dumping tours so you can see how much work goes into sorting trash. After I went on one, it got this big underlying issue about how we drove our lives home: The crazy thing everyone forgets is that all the plastic that was ever made is still on the planet today. Whether it’s buried in the ground, burned in the air or floating on the sea, it’s still here – and will be for a long time to come.
So I made it a point to try and avoid disposable plastic and consumer waste. It came down to small decisions: bring your reusable cup; do not forget a reusable bag; eat instead of taking out. Do you need salsa for an event? Pour in the local taqueria with a mason jar and let them fill it for you. Do you need pita, but do you hate the old stuff at the supermarket? Swing next to the falafel joint on the way home from work with a cotton bag to take home. It was a good start, but many of the items we use daily are still sold in plastic or containers or wrapped in shrinkage.
In 2014, my apartment burned down. It was rent control, so my rent tripled overnight. My wife (then girlfriend) Lauren and I seized this as an opportunity for a fresh start, so we moved to Los Angeles. That’s when the real inspiration came: We opened Re_, a package-free grocery store on April 22, 2020 — Earth Day. We buy products directly from bulk producers in the largest quantities possible in an effort to eliminate waste. Unlike most grocery stores, our food is not going through another set of hands to be branded and packaged in smaller, more expensive and wasteful disposable packages. This makes it cheaper to buy at Re_, and more sustainable, because you can buy as much or as little as you want and refill your own container, over and over. It is closed loop at its best.
We try to be a complement to the farmers market. We have plant-based milk on draft in a barrel. We have tofu in bulk, where you can get as much or as little as you want. We also have plant-based meats and cheeses, eggs, oils and vinegar and more. Yes, these kind of stores are not everywhere, but some people from San Diego will put together a list and someone will drive to our store and return their order to them. We’re actually opening two more places right now. The second is going to be in Mar Vista and the third in Studio City.
The government really does not do much about our environmental waste problem, so we thought we would take it into our own hands. We tell everyone, it’s about small steps, small changes in your behavior. You may not be perfect, but it’s the intention and the actions that come with it. Our mission from the beginning was to make an impact greater than the two of us. It’s so wonderful to look back from where we started to see what we’ve created together. This is the greatest gift. We would never have thought it would get this far.
– As told to Joshua Needelman
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