A Zero Waste Business on Baltimore's Bag Ban
August 22, 2019
People all across Baltimore have been weighing in on the Plastic Bag Reduction Bill - and businesses, too! Diane Wittner, the owner of Echotopia, shared her testimony with us, and we wanted to share it with you. Businesses like Echotopia are already making the switch away from plastic bags, and single-use plastics overall; it's time for all of Baltimore to follow.
It's not too late to send your own thoughts to the City Council. Click here to say: it's time to #ReThinkDisposable plastic bags!
Sunday, August 18, 2019, Baltimore, MD
I am a Baltimore area founding owner of a zero waste cleaning product business, Echotopia LLC. I make and sell trash-free everyday cleaning powders. About two weekends monthly I set up a stall with a refill station at Baltimore’s two biggest farmers markets: 32nd Street Market in Waverly on Saturdays, and Baltimore Farmers Market on Sundays. Customers have choices when purchasing my products; they can bring their own containers for any quantity, they can use my recycled glass or plastic containers, or they can purchase my products in my bright new jars and return for refills, with or without the original containers, since I offer my recycled containers. I never offer new plastic bags for our purchases or refills; I designed my packaging model this way. Echotopia has an online store for occasional customer needs only.
Echotopia has been in business just four years, and I have a growing cadre of enthusiastic and grateful customers who are just plain happy and relieved to engage in zero waste purchases of everyday household products, something they have been desperately seeking. I hear this narrative over and over and over again from people from all walks of life. Children and youth in particular seem to be especially grateful for my business model. But so do concerned adults. After all, given what we all now know about the deadly origins and side effects of plastic in extraction (it's a fossil fuel byproduct), dirty production, use, and inability to break down or ever decompose safely, more and more people are worried. Understandably, no one likes the heavy guilt of depending on plastic bags. They are ugly and ruin our neighborhoods, communities and nature. This goes for plastic bags in city streets, or stuck on a tree branch, or floating in a local stream or river.
As of this writing, Echotopia has prevented more than 2,200 items of plastic trash. See attached photo of our rustic chalk board "Echotopia's Creature Love Refill Sign" where the numbers go up after every market day. And a glance at Echotopia’s Website Instagram and Facebook photographs reveal many, many smiling customer faces. In spite of limited retail hours, I acquire new customers monthly, and my number of refill sales continue to go up each year.
As Echotopia’s owner, I must frequently analyze and adjust the economics of my business. I well understand the economic implications for retailers of making this change, because a zero waste business model is going to require adjustments, i.e. taking financial responsibility for ensuring that packaging originating in a retail establishment causes no environmental harm to any community or living system.
But there's good news. In over four years, I have learned that customers are flexible. They will visit my stall and purchase my products, and then they’ll come back again and again. They’ll likely be smiling and returning to similar retail establishments in Baltimore, glad to be on the leading edge of a 21st century retail exchange that eventually eliminates the need for dirty incineration and landfill, one that actually matches our shared values by protecting public health, our city and its natural resources.
But business owners and customer behaviors alone can't continue to shift in the right direction towards a cleaner environment and zero waste without government support. That is why I support Councilman Bill Henry's Plastic Bag Reduction Act.
Baltimore, we can lead the way to cleaner cities. We can do this. Let’s pass the Plastic Bag Reduction Act.
Owner & Alchemist