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Interview with Chicago's First Zero Waste Store

By: Ava H.


I had the opportunity to interview Bethany at Eco & the Flamingo, located in Lincoln Square! They opened in June 2020 offer dry food, tea & coffee, health & beauty home goods, gifts, and more amazing products! Eco & the Flamingo is women owned and operated and strive to be sustainable, refillable, and cruelty free.




How did you get the idea for Eco & the Flamingo? Where did the idea for the name come from?

We got the idea from zero waste stores I came across in Europe. My partner (Jackie MacCartie) and I had talked for years about opening an eco- friendly business together, and this idea really resonated with us. The name came from a notebook Jackie got to write all of our ideas and business plans that was covered in flamingos. When the time came to choose our name we kept being drawn back to flamingos, and so it stuck! The Eco part of the name describes the core values of the store and the flamingo describes the fun and beauty we try to bring to the business through local artists and beautiful products.



I love how you allow customers to bring their own containers to refill on goods! I used to bring my own jars to the bulk section at Whole Foods, until they claimed that it was “against the rules.” Can you explain how implementing Refill Policies/Instructions has allowed your business to let customers shop sustainably without consequences? How can other stores maintain a sanitary bulk section?

We have not encountered any issues with our BYOC policy for a few reasons:


1. We set up our store to be based around refilling. Places like Whole Foods, and similar stores that have bulk options, are not designed around the concept. In order to keep an eye on what people are filling (making sure weighing is done correctly etc) they would have to dedicate staff to maintaining the bulk section and assisting people with their refills. This is already built into our business model.


2. We require containers to be clean and dry in order to be filled. This is required by most of our producers, and is good practice in general to keep things sanitary.


3. Staff fills all food products. Customers can fill their own soaps, detergents and such, but anything edible you order at our bar and we will fill your containers. This has been especially important during COVID times.



How many products do you sell in bulk?

Approximately 175 and more on the way.



As a small business that operates a zero waste system, do you think that this is an attainable practice that more businesses can adopt? Why or why not?

I think that this is an attainable practice especially for those opening a new business. New businesses can prioritize environmental responsibility from their first day, and make sure they invest in assets that align with those values. For existing businesses it is certainly attainable for those willing to put in the time, effort and financial commitment toward updating their operations in order to become environmentally responsible. We believe that every step toward more sustainable business practices is important. Businesses can alter less sustainable aspects of their operations over time. The important thing is that steps are taken, and that businesses are transparent about what they are working on and what still needs to be worked on moving forward.


What was it like to open during the pandemic? How is COVID-19 still affecting your business and how have you overcome any difficulties?

Challenging! We signed a two year lease at the end of January that was to start on March 1st, and started purchasing inventory in February. When the shut-down happened mid-March we were thrown for a loop, but only momentarily. Jackie and I have never been ones to shy away from a challenge, so we decided to move forward and find a way to make it work. The resurgence of COVID that has come with colder weather has continued to challenge us, but we have continued to find ways to keep our operations safe for our patrons.


We have overcome the difficulties of this pandemic because of three main factors:

1. Flexibility

2. A LOT of hard work

3. Most importantly, wonderful customers who are dedicated to living sustainable lifestyles. They took a chance on us when we opened, and have continued to support and trust us over the last six months. A business is only as good as its customers, and ours are the very kindest and best of people.





What has been your biggest success so far as Chicago’s first zero waste general store?

Our biggest success has been getting off the ground in the middle of a pandemic, to the point where we were able to expand next door into a space which is double the size. We started with about 4 main brands plus a few additional items, and no food section. Over time we have reinvested everything into expanding our offerings, eventually needing more room! We continue to add more all the time, and are so honored to be fulfilling the needs of our community.


What are your dreams for the future of your sustainable small business?

We are currently working on our own brand of products! We are lucky to have met some truly amazing people that are helping us to curate a line of beautiful, functional and environmentally responsible products. We have released a few on our website already and the line will be fully released very early in 2021.


Do you have any advice for anyone hoping to pursue sustainable business?

1. Keep your values at the core of everything you do. You will find that taking responsibility for the impact of your business will not always lead you down the path of least resistance. Don't give up and don't compromise your values.


2. Stay flexible! There will always be challenges and there will always be new and improved ways of doing business, particularly as the world begins to make more of an effort towards sustainable practices. Make sure you stay agile and be ready to redirect.


Thank you again to Bethany for talking with us! To support this amazing small business, head to their website: https://www.ecoandtheflamingo.com/


Location & Hours:


4750 North Rockwell Street

Chicago, 60625, US

(773)-942-6892

chicago.ecoflamingo@gmail.com


Monday 11:00am - 7:00pm

Tuesday Closed

Wednesday 11:00am - 5:00pm

Thursday 11:00am - 5:00pm

Friday 11:00am - 7:00pm

Saturday 11:00am - 7:00pm

Sunday 11:00am - 5:00pm




All photos from Eco and the Flamingo





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