Plastic pollution: do more by buying less

Q&A with Nada founder, Brianne Miller

Photo: Nada founder, Brianne Miller

Photo: Nada founder, Brianne Miller

As a marine biologist, Brianne Miller witnessed the harmful effects of plastic pollution in her daily research. There was not a dive or a day out on the water where she didn't find traces of plastic waste in our ocean. And, the cause was apparent: our food system. 

The way we grow, transport, package, sell, buy, eat and dispose of our food has a direct impact on the degradation of our environment, and ultimately, climate change. 

Realizing the complexities of our broken food system, Brianne asked a simple question: what if food - was just food again? The result was a pop-up shop that soon became the revolutionary grocery store, Nada

We sat down with 1% for the Planet business member, Brianne Miller to talk about how she's changing the grocery industry and ways we can all do more to buy less.

Q: Given that our actionable theme of simplify, what do you think is the simplest solution to solving our environmental crisis right now?

A: Reducing our consumption and the amount of things that we buy. We focus heavily on the 5 R's: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how Nada has simplified our food system and grocery industry?

A: In terms of simplifying, it comes down to the paradox of choice. Reducing the amount of choices people have reduces extra waste. We reduce food waste by enabling customers to buy only what they need. By bringing their own containers, they're not only reducing the packaging, but they're able to buy food that is not pre-portioned - e.g. a single egg, or a sprig of cilantro. Our supply chain also relies heavily on our local food system, which reduces transportation and associated waste that comes with fresh food travelling large distances.

Q: How did you discover 1% for the Planet? Why did you become a member?

A: We discovered 1% for the Planet through our partnership with Patagonia. When I first started Nada, I didn't know anyone there, but reached out to ask if I could host a pop-up shop in their space. Patagonia hosted our monthly pop-up shops for two years as we got started and searched for our own space. I learned a lot through them about how to run a business. I read all of Yvon Chouinard's books and was inspired by seeing Patagonia's culture in action. So, why did we become a member? To solve the environmental crisis of plastic pollution and to cultivate a better world by inspiring people to change the way we shop for groceries. Ensuring that we are supporting environmental grassroots organizations is a really important part of what we do.

Q: What issues matter most to Nada? Who are your nonprofit partners?

A: Marine conservation, food security, food education, waste management and waste reduction.

As a marine biologist, I want to tie what I saw in my years of research into what we do. I want to support a more just food system by making food - especially healthy food - more accessible. I love teaching people about food, where it comes from, how to cook and make healthy choices. And in doing so, reducing waste and lessening impact on the environment.

We work with a lot of nonprofits but right now we're really excited about the projects our team has chosen to work on this quarter. Currently, we're working with RAVEN Trust: a legal defense fund for Indigenous People, supporting their equity in the justice system and their natural living habitat. We also work with Fresh Roots, a nonprofit that focuses on youth and putting garden programs in schools, as well as the Georgia Strait Alliance to support marine conservation.

Q: What is one thing we can all do right now to make a difference for our planet?

A: To put it simply: buy less.

In terms of food, make one small change at a time. We suggest a waste audit. It's simple. Just take a few minutes to look at your garbage and see what you're throwing away the most. Then, focus on using or buying less of that item that week before moving on to the next.

A few small changes go a long way. Try shopping in the bulk section. Bring your own containers when you can. Choose products that give back and support social issues.

Fresh produce; photo credit: Nada and Maxine Bulloch

Fresh produce; photo credit: Nada and Maxine Bulloch

Q: What requirements do you emphasize when selecting suppliers? Can you give us an example product that you'd find in your store?

A: Our leading criteria is that every supplier has to work with us to reduce waste, regardless of whether it's a one-person business or large supplier. Since we opened, we've directed over 175,000 containers away from landfill.

Additionally, we love working with suppliers with alternative business models, which have environmental missions built into them such as female-led businesses, small businesses, local businesses, organic and regenerative farms, to name a few.

Q: How do you inspire people to change the way they shop?

A: We try to lead by example through community outreach and education. Our calendar is full of workshops, pop-up shops, panel discussions and we partner with larger organizations to bring zero-waste initiatives into their offices.

Q: What inspires you?

A: My background is in marine biology. I worked for almost a decade on coral reefs, tropical fish and marine mammals. I was really fortunate to do so for many years, but it became apparent that our planet's oceans are rampant with plastic pollution. Every research project I was working on was either directly or indirectly affected by our food system. So, I thought to myself, what can we actually do to reduce?

Q: What's next? Any exciting plans on the horizon for Nada?

A: This year, we're looking forward to really ramping up our community outreach efforts. We have a lot of exciting events in the pipeline, such as our monthly Vancouver meetups and some really cool events for World Water and World Oceans Day. Stay tuned! And of course, we're planning to continue to expand Nada and our zero-waste initiatives in the years ahead!

Brianne Miller (CEO) & Alison Carr (COO); photo credit: Nada and Maxine Bulloch

Brianne Miller (CEO) & Alison Carr (COO); photo credit: Nada and Maxine Bulloch

Jaclyn McCarthy