No plastic wrapping. No rubber bands. Idaho’s first ‘zero-waste’ grocery opens soon

On the opposite end of Garden City’s stretch of Chinden Boulevard from the Fred Meyer store at Glenwood Street, Lea Rainey and Zach Yunker are getting ready to open a radically different grocery store.

At Roots Zero Waste Market, 3308 W. Chinden Blvd., you won’t see aisles packed with products encased in oversized cardboard boxes or plastic containers. Any packaging is minimal: Paper covers some bars of soap and toilet paper. Cleaning products come in glass spray jars where water gets added to a powder at home. Refills come in small tins.

Fruits and vegetables from Boise’s Global Gardens and other suppliers will be packed loose in display bins. There won’t be any plastic bags or even rubber bands to keep carrots and scallions in bunches.

“We’ve told our purveyors we don’t want plastic on our vegetables or rubber bands, so they will package them in a different way,” Rainey said in an interview. “Our larger fruit vendors won’t give us anything in plastic clamshells. It’s something we asked them for and most people are willing to accommodate us.”

Rainey and Yunker had planned to open Roots last year in the building, formerly occupied by Ali Baba Hookah Bar, which burned in 2015. The couple say it took them longer than expected to obtain city permits and renovate the building.

Now they’re ready. The store’s grand opening is at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.

Roots Zero Waste Market is scheduled to open at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 3308 W. Chinden Blvd. in Garden City. John Sowell

“We want to respect the earth and protect the earth and provide people with really high-quality goods that are good for you,” said Rainey, who said the store will have about 15 employees.

The space includes a plant-based apothecary, Vervain, operated by Nicole Pierce, a naturopath. It is already open and operates from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Zero-waste markets began in Europe more than a decade ago as a way to eliminate packaging waste. Bepakt, a company that monitors the zero-waste industry, lists seven zero-waste stores in the United States, mostly in California and Colorado. Two have opened in Seattle and two are planned in Portland.

Rainey believes the Treasure Valley is ready for Roots, which will include an in-store cafe with entrees, salads and sandwiches available to eat there or take home. Dishes will be made from produce plucked from store bins.

“You may not really be interested in saving plastic or saving the planet — that might not be on your radar,” Rainey said. “But it doesn’t mean we won’t have something for everybody here.”

Dry beans, popcorn, quinoa, rice and other grains are packed in glass jars. John Sowell

Rainey grew up in McCall and the outdoors has always been important to her, she said. Yunker, her husband, grew up in Boise. After looking at their own consumption habits, they felt like they could make a difference providing products that impact the environment in a smaller way.

If only 25 people came to the store each day and bought products without plastic packaging, it could keep 55 tons of plastic from going into the Ada County landfill each year, she said.

Rainey and Yunker have operated a pop-up stand at the 34th Street Market on Wednesday nights in Garden City and at other locations.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Rainey said. “People feel really excited about it. We’re all aware of the plastics situation, the pollution that it’s causing and the fact our recycling system is broken. People are just fed up with having to deal with what to do with it. ...

“Our store is about giving consumers choices,” Rainey said. “It’s about having the opportunity to see things differently or buy a different product. Today, there’s very little opportunity to really buy package-free goods.”

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.