Sustainable living has been a lifelong passion for sisters Tannis and Mara Bundi. Growing up on a bustling 50-acre farm in Stouffville, ON instilled in them a zero-waste fervor at a young age. There were chickens, homemade clothing and freshly churned butter. Their dream of starting up their business came to fruition years after making a big move to Toronto. Frustrated by the lack of eco-friendly options in the big city, the duo set up shop in an effort to fill that gap. The result was The Green Jar, a one-stop-shop for seasoned eco-warriors and novices looking to familiarize themselves with zero-waste products and refillable personal care items – a hub where the green living community can share ideas.
We chatted with Tannis and Mara about sustainable living, their favourite eco-friendly products and the effects of COVID-19 on their business and community.
Part of the inspiration behind The Green Jar was the lack of sustainable lifestyle options in Toronto. Was there one particular moment that gave you that final nudge to make your business plan a reality?
“Eighty per cent of plastic pollution in our oceans comes from landfills. Every minute, one garbage truck of waste is dumped into our oceans. By 2050, there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish! These types of statistics kept us up at night. We felt the urgency to move forward on opening The Green Jar after realizing we could have more of an impact at reducing single-use plastics and household waste as a business versus [what we do in] a single household. We felt so passionate about our mission and felt that our community would be eager to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle if we provided the means to do so in an engaging and accessible way. We wanted to create a community hub where people could come together to exchange ideas and learn how to be more eco-friendly, active and self-sufficient through workshops and action.”
You grew up on a 50-acre horse farm in Ontario. Tell us about life on the farm. How did growing up in this environment influence the eco-friendly lifestyle you lead today?
“Our early years were idealistic in the sense that we had a lot of freedom to explore the countryside and play with animals. We had chickens, horses, cats, dogs, bats and groundhogs. Our parents divorced when we were adolescents, so we moved to the city where our mother opened a retail store. She was extremely creative and made our clothing. She taught us how to be resourceful. Many summers, we stayed with our grandmother in the country and were exposed to [DIY] projects and outdoor activities. We learned how to make our own soap and butter, how to forage and infuse herbs for medicinal purposes. As teenagers, we would go camping and build our own shelters and fires.”
You mentioned that reducing (and ultimately eliminating) single-use plastics is your top priority. What would you recommend people start doing ASAP to help ease the transition?
“People can begin by refusing single-use plastic bags or straws when dining out and carry a reusable bag with you at all times. These small initial changes have a big impact.”
What is a must-have eco-friendly item/gadget (or two) you sell at The Green Jar that you wish more people knew about?
“Switch out [the standard kitchen sponge] with a biodegradable/compostable vegetable cellulose dish sponge that you can toss into the compost at the end of its life. We also love the canvas four-bottle bag that holds refillables (or wine). We also love our lightweight minimal insulated bottle that also holds hot liquids (12 hours hot/24 hours cold!).”
Speaking of products: tell us more about your inventory – the range of products you sell, where you source them and why more people need to know about them.
“Our refillery section carries plant-based home and care products like bulk toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, beard oil and pet shampoo. We also have kitchen, bathroom and laundry cleaning products in liquid and powdered options. We are proud to share that all of our brands are Canadian or Toronto-based. Most are family-run businesses. They take their containers back to sanitize and reuse 12-20 times before recycling, and they all align with our values. We also carry fresh-pressed juices and salads from Village Juicery and honey from Alveole – they even have hives on school roofs, office buildings and backyards.”
What are the biggest challenges you have faced in educating the community about adopting more eco-friendly habits? What do people in the city most commonly overlook or take for granted?
“Consumers are sometimes stuck at the initial costs versus savings and the effectiveness of plant-based products verses commercial/synthetic products. We always break it down and show them how much more expensive it is to constantly purchase items that will break and end up in landfills. The other important factor to consider is that some commercial products are toxic (BPA’s, phthalates, neurotoxins, etc.) that can cause chronic inflammatory conditions. Our shower gels and laundry soaps are plant-based, made with less water and no added fillers, so there is a ‘less is more’ approach to our refillable products. Our goal is also to give access to those on a fixed or reduced income. We want to educate our consumers about the power they have over what comes into their homes. Collectively, we need to hold our government and manufacturers accountable for how they make and package our products – sign petitions and write letters to MPs and MPPs.”
What has been the biggest challenge during COVID? What has community support during the pandemic meant to the success of The Green Jar?
“Our initial challenge was how to continue to provide essentials to our community. We had a website, but no e-commerce platform and limited income as we were only three months old! [After creating] our online shop, we had a few wrinkles, but our customers were so supportive and patient. Some of our neighbours put up a list on Facebook sharing who was open, delivering and providing contactless pick-up. This was huge. It meant that they valued our mission and products. It’s a great feeling to know that we felt needed.”
To learn more about The Green Jar founders Tannis and Mara Bundi, tune into the @AmexCanada #ShopSmallStories Twitter episode here. The Twitter Original series was created in partnership with American Express Canada in support of their Shop Small program, a national movement, backed by a Cardmember offer, to encourage Canadians to get behind their local small businesses and help revive communities.
Photos courtesy of North Agency