Most of us honestly don’t like to think about the massive carbon footprint we leave just, well, being human in the twenty first century. But, think about it or not, we’re still leaving an impact on the world we live in and the world yet to come. Maybe it’s time to be more aware. And maybe it isn’t that hard to get started.
That’s the idea behind Tucson based “zero waste” shop Cero Tucson, founded by local entrepreneur Val Timin and her creative partner, chemistry wiz and part time rock star Nelene DeGuzman (also known as guitarist and vocalist for Tucson based indie rock band The Rifle.)
Cero debuts as a pop up shop in Tucson on July 28 of this year, and yours truly decided to check in with Val and Nelene on the eve of the venture’s unveiling. Meet Cero Tucson!
Julie Jennings-Patterson: So, what is Cero all about?
Nelene DeGuzman (Cero Tucson): Cero is a one stop zero waste shop with the aim to make less wasteful living easier/more accessible.
We’ll be providing resources and products to minimize waste in the Tucson community as well as organizing community events such as volunteer trash cleanups and educational workshops.
We’ll have low waste personal care, home goods, general consumable items in re-fillable form as well as collections for hard to recycle items.
Val Timin (Cero Tucson): Primarily, Cero is about low waste living. We sell products that help you reduce your waste, we make our own simple body care and household products, and plan to hold community cleanups, workshops, and other activities.
Beyond that, we believe in a future where humans collectively move away from the landfill lifestyle. There are so many little ways to reduce your waste, make an impact, and save money along the way. It’s also about the way we spend our money, vote with our dollars, and how we carefully think about all of our habits.
Choosing healthy local foods, commuting by bus or bicycle, shopping at small businesses, etc. We also want to inspire others to follow their sustainable business dreams.
JJP: Who’s behind the effort and how did it come together?
Nelene: Me and Val!
It was Val’s idea. She and I were (and are) close friends but one day she told me about her dream of opening a zero waste shop. I thought that idea was so cool!
I was already a radical vegan looking for other ways to minimize my environmental impact and had recently found and become interested in the zero waste movement. I kept checking in on her, like what’s happening with your zero waste shop? What’s the status? Because I really wanted to shop there haha.
In lieu of products that checked all the boxes for me (vegan, cruelty free, zero/low waste packaging, made from sustainable starting materials, locally made or sourced if possible) that I could never seem to find, I started making my own personal care products for myself and my husband Kevin to use.
Val: After getting to know each other as friends over the last couple of years, Nelene knew about this longtime dream I’ve had and we decided to partner up and make it a reality.
We have complementary skills in that I have a business and marketing background, and Nelene studied chemistry and biochemistry. I’m able to help with the business side of things, while Nelene has been creating magical body care and home products for us.
Fortunately for us, we have a lot of resources and role models that helped us feel ready to just dive in and get started. We’ve been cranking away all summer to make this dream come true.
JJP: What made you realize the need for a low waste alternative to disposal products?
Val: A true fun fact is that a question occurred to me ten years ago when I was at Tucson High, learning about Earth-related matters: “What if we had grocery stores… without all the trash.” Since then, I held on to really wanting to make it happen. So I realized that to do that I must open a zero waste store.
Starting seven years ago I noticed a store called Unverpackt (German for ‘unpackaged’) open up in Germany, and then more zero waste stores started to pop up around the globe.
“My idea!” would go through my head every time I learned of a new one. They beat me to it, but I was still fresh out of high school and wanted to get more experience and go through Eller College before diving in to my own venture.
Over time, I learned more about sustainability and started practicing it more in my life. It really started small and then the realizations just keep growing. Meanwhile, landfills and the giant island of trash in the ocean are also ever-growing. If you don’t know about the ocean mass of trash, please look it up!
What might be a relevant example is thinking about how much air comes in a bag of big brand chips or something; You might notice it seems wasteful. Why so much packaging, for only ¼ packaging of chips?
Why create so much waste in our lives when there are clearly alternatives? We can do better than the current norm. Why invite so much strange products and chemicals into our lives when there are simple, natural alternatives?
There’s truly so much to talk about here, so I’m very excited to share more about this with everyone as time goes on. Videos, blogs, and all that fun stuff coming soon.
JJP: Does it cost a lot to make the switch to zero waste personal items? And how do you get people to change their thinking and get onboard?
Val: Does it cost a lot? I would say the short answer is no. We want to help remind folks that this is really about anti-consumerism. We’re going to encourage that people use what they already have before buying from us or from any business. Some questions to ask yourself before spending money are “Who am I giving my money to and do I align with them?” “Do I already have something like this at home or could I get it second hand or borrowed?” and “How long will this item last me? Is there a more sustainable, long term option?”
So with Cero, before you buy a utensil kit from us or online, maybe you already have a camping kit at home complete with a compact cup, plate, and utensil set instead – keep that in your backpack, car, or office so it’s always with you when you need to avoid disposables.
We’re wanting to guide people towards a low cost, low waste lifestyle. A huge motivator for going low waste are the possible savings if you do it right.
Picture not having to buy stuff like paper towels, overpriced razor cartridges, or endless gas for your car? What else could you do with that money? What if in one year, you only spent $20 on laundry detergent and household cleaners because you made it yourself at home using just a few ingredients?
As far as changing people’s thinkin, gosh, it’s a very personal thing to invite people to change their thinking or habits that they’ve grown up with. A wasteful lifestyle is so ingrained in popular culture. I’m hoping others will join us in believing how possible it is to change it.
I look to the states that are mandating sustainable practices, countries that have amazing waste and recycling management, and the thousands, maybe millions, of individuals who make conscious choices to help prevent waste and protect the environment.
I think sustainable common sense is within all of us and we just want to help people let it come out. I feel like people generally want to make their things last, not be wasteful, conserve what they’ve spent money on.
People want to do their part for the planet. Recycle, skip the straw, bring their own bags. We’re here to help inspire people to get started making the change, go to the next level of low waste lifestyles, and also try and talk to neighborhoods and the city about how to make a difference together.
Nelene: There is definitely a bit of a trend of the Instagram-able zero waste shopper, and that’s totally fine, but our goal with Cero is to make low waste living accessible and inclusive.
The most sustainable thing you can do is not buy things if you don’t need them and reuse the items you already have whenever possible.
At the core of this movement is the idea that if you invest in a reusable quality item, it should save you money over time in comparison to re-purchasing an equivalent item that is perhaps cheaper initially but meant to be used only a couple of times then discarded.
We definitely have items that are more of an initial investment, but that will save you money over time. But we’ll also have lower cost alternatives for most budgets.
JJP: What has the community response been so far?
Nelene: People have been really supportive!
We’re just really excited to meet people and hear about the products they want us to stock and any trouble areas with making sustainable choices that maybe we can help with.
Val: We’re really just getting started, but so far it’s very positive. We’re working with individuals and organizations we already know, and are starting to connect with and hear from new ones. We’re excited for the collaborations and partnerships yet to come. Friends have been excited to let us borrow any tables or canopies we might need.
JJP: Any obstacles or challenges you’re encountered so far?
Nelene: The biggest challenge has been doing our best to source the best possible options.
There are a lot of different considerations to take trying to find high quality items that meet our moral standards and trying to find local makers of those products whenever possible.
We are doing our best with the thought that we can improve upon choices we’ve made as better options become available.
Val: Truth be told, time is a big one for me. Between a full time job, serving on two boards, playing volleyball at the JCC, and making time for my partner and our home, how is all of this even possible? I guess we’ve just made it so!
Teaming up with Nelene has been essential. Other not necessarily challenges, but just a thing, are financial constraints. We’re aiming to keep this a debt-free, low-cost operation, so while we’re so excited to make and buy all the things for our shop, we’ve had to prioritize the long list of zero waste things we want to provide.
JJP: Things you’re most proud of at this point?
Nelene: I’m just proud we’re actually doing it!
Val: I’m proud of Nelene and myself for following through with this big idea. Very proud to join Tucson’s entrepreneur and sustainable communities as Cero. Proud to know all of the individualds who have supported us along the way.
So proud to be Nelene’s friend andof how good she is at formulating things!
JJP: Future plans at this point?
Val: The dream is really to have a brick and mortar location that includes a wider product range.
Picture a space, with bulk, local foods, fresh produce, jamaica and iced tea on tap, and all the zero waste household and beauty products you need all in one place. Pick up dinner supplies or just a healthy snack. It’ll be a place to hang out, to host events, and to create a dedicated place for low wasters in the community.
Nelene: Definitely a physical store is the goal.
We are hoping to slowly expand to where we can stock all things reusable and refillable but for now we’re just trying to scope out a couple recurring locations so that when people find items we are stocking they like they can easily know where and when they can come back and refill.
JJP: How can we learn more?
Val: The best way to stay connected with us is to get on our email list , since this will be our primary communication channel for news and updates. Stay tuned for upcoming articles and videos we’ll be producing!
Nelene: And come talk to us at 5 Points Market this and every Sunday! You can come shop a little, or even just ask us questions.
JJP: Tell us about the debut pop up event for Cero.
Nelene: It’ll be at 5 Points Farmers Market (750 S. Stone in Downtown Tucson) from 8-11 A.M. beginning on Sunday, July 28th and recurring every Sunday moving forward. We’ll have zero waste essentials as well as a bunch of products I’ve made for Cero’s in house personal care brand Art Over Order.
Val: This is our very first event and we are so excited to participate in 5 Points Farmers Market alongside other vendors with fresh produce and local goods!
In addition to what Nelene mentioned above, we’ll also have a “freecycle” bin and a hard to recycle items collection station. All the details are on our website on the calendar event page.
We’re expecting it to be kind of a party! Friends and family coming out to support, and new friends coming down to meet Cero.
If you plan to attend, the low waste tips we’re sharing are to always take inventory before shopping so you don’t overbuy, bring your own cups and to go containers if you’re stopping by 5 Points Restaurant, and bring your own bags for shopping at the market.
JJP: Thanks for filling us in on the new venture – and good luck on the launch!
You can visit Cero Tucson Sunday mornings from 8-11 A.M. beginning July 28 at Five Points Farmers Market, 750 S. Stone in Downtown Tucson. Or you can visit them online at www.cerotucson.com.
This post is part of the “Pay-it-forward PR” series at spitegeist.com, showcasing badass independent local businesses, makers, inventors, writers, artists, musicians, causes, creative folks or upcoming events on a pro bono basis, with help from supporters in the Tucson community. Help keep it going by donating via PayPal (email@example.com) or Venmo (@bowiejjp) or by becoming a recurring supporter on Patreon. Want to be a future subject, or nominate someone? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.