adopting a low-waste lifestyle: Q&A with shop owner and eco-enthusiast Erika Brodzky
Author: Simone Quenneville
Erika Brodzky is an eco-enthusiast who specializes in sustainable consumption and is the owner of two shops in Toronto: Sub Rosa Vintage, a clothing store in Kensington Market, and Ecotique, a boutique selling sustainable homewares and gifts, on Roncesvalles.
What is your favourite part of your job? and the hardest part?
That's a toss-up between my two favourite parts of my job (at Ecotique) which are meeting the makers of our locally made gifts and lifestyle goods and connecting with customers over the awesome, earth-friendly products we carry!
At Sub Rosa Vintage, it’s pretty much the same – I love connecting with customers and helping them find their new favourite vintage gem. Knowing I am offering sustainable buying choices at both of my shops makes me feel pretty good.
The hardest part is definitely the paperwork. There is so much accounting and record keeping and financial obligation that goes into running a business it can be daunting at times. I am NOT a desk person!
how do you feel about the zero-waste movement?
When it comes to how much waste people produce on a collective level the statistics are very scary.
Much of the pollution that ends up in waterways, landfill and the air we breathe is produced by large companies and corporations and it can feel like we have no control over that as average citizens. But we can control our own impact. The great thing about the zero-waste movement is that it encourages us to look at our personal consumption and waste output.
We all need to take more responsibility for our habits and I think having zero-waste goals influence your life in even a small way will reduce waste in the long run.
Is there anything that inspires you or worries you about it?
What worries me is that, as with any movement or collective action, there is a possibility for some people to take it to a totalitarian or exclusionary extreme. I don't think anyone should ever shame another person for their habits, if say, they don't ascribe to the same way of doing things.
I think if you believe in something, like going zero-waste or plastic-free, it's important to talk about it with others who don't know what it is and lead by example without being pedantic, bullying or belittling. I like the metaphor of by watering your own garden you make something beautiful and then others will see the beauty in the work and do the same. That's what I hope for!
what's the sense you get from customers that come into your stores regarding their feelings toward this movement?
It's a real range. For the most part people are super into it. Everyone is on a separate path and coming around to the idea of making sustainable choices in their own way and in their own time.
At Ecotique, I love that I get to introduce things like beeswax food wrap or stainless steel containers or handmade up-cycled beer glasses to people who have never heard of those things and, alternately, bond over those same items with people that have been consciously buying reusable or recycled items for years!
At Sub Rosa Vintage, I love that our inventory [consists of] previously worn items that we have kept out of landfill. I am super proud of what we are doing at both shops.
how do you approach the low-waste lifestyle? What does it mean to you on a day-to-day basis?
I'd say I'm a bit militant in a chill way? My husband may disagree with the chill part... I mean, at home and at my businesses we are very into reusing and what we can't reuse we recycle and then, as a last resort, use the garbage for non-recyclables. Producing zero-waste is hard - if not impossible.
When it comes to reusing or recycling, there are no completely closed loop systems that I know of. But producing less waste is easy and can be defined differently by each individual. I have made the choice not to purchase a number of single-use items and it has definitely positively impacted my life and those close to me.
I don't buy plastic water bottles; I bring my own coffee cup when I get coffee to go; I bring a reusable bag to the grocery store or farmer’s market; I don't use cling wrap (I use beeswax wrap instead) and I carry reusable bamboo utensils in my bag and I try - though it isn't always possible - to purchase food with little to no packaging. If you still put your apples in one of those flimsy little plastic bags at the grocery store, stop that. Right now. Just put them in the basket loose, let 'em roll around and wash them when you get home.
These are small changes that were very easy for me to implement and that I think most of us are capable of. You produce less garbage and save money. It's a win-win!
why is this lifestyle important to you?
I want to leave the earth better than I found it if possible. We've all seen those pictures of landfills around the world, of sea life that has been negatively impacted by human waste production and of the micro-plastics and chemicals in our water.
I believe by doing my part to avoid single use plastics, to buy less in general and purchase only vintage, second hand or locally made clothing and gifts I will hopefully inspire others to do the same.
what are some of the challenges? How do you make it work?
There are lots of challenges with this endeavour and sometimes I fail in my goals. There was a super hot day this summer and I was far from home, without my reusable water bottle and with a friend who didn't want to stop at a restaurant for water and we were SO THIRSTY! We ended up going to the closest convenience store and bought plastic bottled water to drink. I actually still feel some guilt about it but I'm only human and I needed some water and I told myself I'd do better tomorrow!
In any endeavour, be it attempting a more sustainable lifestyle or learning a new instrument it is so important to treat yourself gently and not to endanger your body or mental health. If you find you are hurting yourself - going hungry or thirsty or feeling dispirited - you may need to reevaluate your way of doing things and make some changes.
Some people may not be able to carry around a water bottle, reusable cutlery and a bunch of reusable bags due to physical or financial limitations. If you have plastic-free or zero-waste goals there will be hitches, limits and setbacks but if you just let those goals influence and guide your personal choices and do what is within your power you are doing something good for the earth and the people around you.
is there something you won’t leave the house without?
My reusable bag and — now — water bottle.
what is one thing people should invest in if they want to reduce the waste they're producing?
A reusable coffee cup. Lots of people don't know that paper coffee cups are not recyclable in Toronto because they have a plastic coating on the inside. So imagine, every coffee you purchase on your way to work, at your midday break or on your Sunday stroll, ends up in landfill.
Now multiply that by the population of Toronto, and then every major city in North America and prepare to have your mind blown. That's a heck of lot of cups ending up in landfill and waterways.
do you have any other sustainable tips?
Everything we have ever bought or used ends up somewhere. Spend some time thinking about that. Really thinking about it. Like, pick an object in your home and imagine where it came from and where it will end up once you don't possess it anymore. Everything ever made goes somewhere.
If you do that thought practice enough, I guarantee you will be more conscious of what you buy. The more recycled, recyclable, reusable and locally made things we purchase or acquire through trade (clothing swaps are great!), the less that needs to be produced and less that ends up polluting the lands and oceans.
And lastly, we have to keep talking to each other about ways to make a positive impact on the world. That's the only way to change for the better.
As Erika pointed out, our efforts can make a greater impact on the planet if we continue to connect with each other and talk about making sustainable choices. At an individual level, starting small is the best way to make sure these habits stick and start becoming part of your daily life.