Talking Zero-Waste with Jenna Meier of The Glass Pantry


Jenna Meier is the owner of The Glass Pantry, a zero-waste, bulk store located in Milwaukee, WI. Jenna wants to make zero waste shopping easy, accessible, and fun. In this interview, Jenna talked with us about zero-waste, running The Glass Pantry, and gave tips to anyone who wants to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle.

Perry:   Jenna, what’s your zero-waste mission?

Jenna:    My mission is to help my community live more easily in line with their personal ethics around sustainability. Reducing waste and living more sustainably should not be difficult. When we learn about the dangers of climate change and our culture of consumption, we usually tend to want to change our habits. I want to make those changes easier for people.

Perry:   Why did you decide to go zero waste and what or who inspired you?

Jenna:   I have slowly reduced waste in my household, but we are not zero waste- I wish! Going vegan was really a catalyst for personal changes for me. I really started diving into the world of sustainability and what I could do on an individual level to combat these larger issues. I truly believe that grassroots efforts are the way to create larger change and that gives each of us a lot of agency and responsibility. We can all make a difference with every choice we make.

Perry:   How disruptive was it to your everyday life — what were the biggest things you had to change?

Jenna:   I started shopping in bulk because much of my family's waste was food waste. But I was quickly discouraged because I was driving to 3 or 4 stores to find what I needed, and I would inevitably still come home with things in plastic packaging. I thought bulk shopping would be a fantastic way to reduce waste, but it wasn't available at the level I needed it to be.

Perry:   Why did you decide to start The Glass Pantry?

Jenna:   I saw the need in my own life for a bulk store that supplied more than just the common basics. I hoped that other people wanted to shop the same way I did and I wanted to meet like-minded individuals as well so we could support each other. I wanted personal care products as well as household cleaners available in bulk. I wanted organic products. I wanted locally made products. I decided to create the shop I was waiting for because it hadn't been done yet and I desperately wanted it to exist! I wanted to set an example for my son of making change and following a dream. It's important for me to be able to model those things for him as he grows.

Perry:   Are you finding that more people are drawn to an environmental lifestyle as awareness about the climate crisis rises?

Jenna:   I hope so but it's hard to know! It seems more mainstream and that gives me hope. Meat alternatives, ecofriendly products, and regenerative farming practices all seem to be on the rise.

Perry:       How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

Jenna:   I was not open before Covid so I have no frame of reference for how "normal" business would have been! About a year ago when we "opened," we started out only doing delivery and curbside pickup which was interesting because we hadn't planned on doing an online shop at all! We still offer those options even though our shop is open now. We also do all the filling for in store shoppers to cut down on the amount of people touching things.

Perry:   What’s been the most challenging or surprising thing about operating a zero-waste shop?

Jenna:   How hard it is for a zero-waste shop to actually be zero waste! We produce trash here and it's hard to manage. Products come to us in all different ways and sometimes you get plastic bags or packing peanuts or Styrofoam. You name it. We work with TerraCycle to recycle some things like bags and disposable gloves which helps but it's tough to stomach when you’ve worked so hard to reduce waste.

It's also surprising sometimes what I can and cannot find in bulk. Some things that I think would be easy to find, are very difficult.

Perry:   How do you manage to find enough resources available to live your lifestyle, and operate your business, especially when everything is so obsessively wrapped?

Jenna:   I manage to find grace with myself when the options are not there or when mistakes happen. Waste happens and beating ourselves up about it doesn't do any good. I learn from situations, implement practices slowly until they become habits, and repeat. When it comes to the business, the more I learn about the supply chain, the more resources I'm able to uncover. It just takes time.

Perry:   What are some things that have been hard to find that are zero waste?

Jenna:   Liquid products are difficult because they will come to us in big plastic tubs with pumps. Most companies don’t take these tubs back so we have to recycle them all. I don't love this solution because there is no guarantee that things get recycled but for liquid products, it's the best we can do. It makes me much happier to use solid versions of typical liquid products personally. Such as shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bars, dish soap blocks and bar soaps instead of liquid hand soap.

Perry:   What’s your tactic for influencing people about why they should shop at The Glass Pantry?

Jenna:   I try to set an example of living an authentic, aligned life in line with my values and make myself available for those looking for guidance where I can offer it. I have no interest really in preaching, teaching, or even influencing. I feel more called to live out my values and encourage those around me to do the same.

Perry:   When you hear stats such as how 12 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year, do you feel like one person living zero waste really makes a difference?

Jenna:   Individual and grassroots efforts have led to massive change. One person and then another and then another will shift the status quo in a way that will make the seemingly strange way of living the norm after time. The only power we have is over our own thoughts and actions, so it's up to us to use that power to the best of our ability. Every action adds up, it’s what makes the world we live in. So choose intentionally!

Perry:   What individuals or organizations inspire you in the Milwaukee community?

Jenna:   All small business owners, other mothers who are business owners, the farmers, growers, and makers I work with. Plastic Free Milwaukee, The Riverkeepers, The Victory Garden Initiative, Kompost Kids, The Milwaukee Diaper Mission, so many!

Perry:   What do you never leave home without?

Jenna:   Reusable bag, a napkin or cloth, and a water bottle.

Perry:   What are your tips for anyone thinking about going zero waste?

Jenna:   Start small, create one habit at a time and give it time to make it stick. Look at your own habits and adjust those instead of going out and buying a bunch of things that might be "zero waste' but don’t actually apply to your personal habits.

Perry:   What are your plans and goals for your commitment to sustainability?

Jenna:   To continue to grow personally and learn and adjust my own habits and lifestyle to be more sustainable. I want to grow the business to incorporate community events and classes to bring likeminded people together and offer community space in that way. I want to teach my son to care for the natural world and understand that he is a part of nature and its rhythm. I want to continue to heal my own wounds and unlearn the things that are in the way of my growth.

The Glass Pantry is located at 1039 S. 5th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204.

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