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San Diego’s new zero-waste grocery store opens

Owner Isabelle DeMillan poses in front of the vending machines at The Mighty Bin in North Park, San Diego – a new zero-waste concept for grocery stores. (Photo: Mighty Bin)

SAN DIEGO — A unique grocery store concept that opened in San Diego last month, inviting customers to bring their own containers and reduce the amount of waste generated by grocery shopping.

The mighty barrela few blocks from the famous North Park Water Tower on El Cajon Boulevard, is a nod to the “zero-waste” movement that eliminates single-use plastic and other polluting packaging.

The store displays its wares in “gravity dispensers” — those clear tubs with a trigger handle you see at the hotel cereal buffet — large jars and glass cases.

Customers arrive with empty bins and totes, have the empty items weighed and labeled, and stock up on the groceries they want to buy. Then they return to the counter to weigh and check out their products.

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Gravity dispensers hold produce at The Mighty Bin in North Park, San Diego – a new zero-waste grocery store concept. (Photo: Mighty Bin)

The store sells reusable jars and tote bags for people who don’t have enough bins for their purchases, and staff also collect a selection of donated bins which they sanitize and then offer to customers.

Isabelle DeMillan is the passionate entrepreneur behind the project that Raised over $35,000 on Kickstarter and finally held a grand opening on April 9 after an arduous permitting process.

In a phone interview Friday, DeMillan told FOX 5 her idea for the store was driven by personal experience. She was frustrated by the lack of small, local ways to reduce waste and eat more sustainably. Even as she tried to reduce her negative environmental impact, DeMillan found she was relying on orders from multiple sources — and still going through a lot of single-use plastics and other packaging to do so.

“I got tired of looking for both organic foods and non-toxic products,” DeMillan said. “I had to do a lot of research and order online. I really designed this store based on what a fight it was for me.”

DeMillan said the “zero-waste” nickname was more ambitious than literal.

“It’s a goal. It’s something we’re striving for,” she told FOX 5. “It’s not something we can necessarily achieve at this point.”

But the store and its customers certainly use far less material than a typical supermarket. DeMillan has recycling and composting partners for what is wasted — items like the polythene liners on large bulk bags that the store uses for redevelopment.

“I haven’t used my trash can since we opened,” DeMillan said.

The business sources its groceries from a variety of sources, including organic retailers in Oregon and local vendors who take advantage of California’s “great year-round growing season” for their produce.

The store offers a wide variety of items, and DeMillan said one of her fears — that she wouldn’t do enough as a “one-stop shop” for new customers — hasn’t been realized. Visitors have told her they are surprised at how much she stocks.

Still, late in the pandemic, supply chain issues are affecting small businesses all the more, and sometimes odd items (DeMillan mentioned chickpeas and peppers) are just out of reach. To let buyers know what’s in stock, The Mighty Bin will publish an updated inventory which you can view online.

The owner recognizes that reducing waste is a daunting task that cannot be accomplished overnight. “We feel very helpless,” DeMillan said.

However, she hopes The Mighty Bin can help spark a broader change in consumer habits.

“Big companies are a huge problem, but the thing is — they’re still there because we support them,” DeMillan said. “We have to use our purchasing power. We have to use our money where it makes the most difference.”

You can Read more on The Mighty Bin’s website or visit the store Tuesday through Sunday at 2855 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite 4.

https://fox5sandiego.com/news/local-news/san-diegos-new-zero-waste-grocery-store-opens-for-business/ San Diego’s new zero-waste grocery store opens

Sarah Y. Kim

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