By GRACE KELLY/ecoRI News staff
PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Ana Duque hangs mesh produce bags from a hatstand in an old mill building. I have those exact bags, and I can’t help but say that I always forget them at home when I go grocery shopping.
“I totally get that,” the 24-year-old Duque replied. “I have to keep mine in my car, that way when I’m at the store I can just run back and grab them if I forget.”
Duque is the owner of Green Tenderfoot, a zero-waste company she started in July that allows customers to buy products that lower their waste footprints — think metal straws, mesh grocery bags, and reusable feminine products — and enables them to re-stock on essentials such as shampoo, conditioner, and laundry detergent. Her refill products include options like shampoo that are as low as 18 cents per ounce, and organic products like tea tree shampoo that are priced slightly higher.
“People can bring their jars to my refill station, we tare out that weight, and then they fill the jars with the body and household products they need and pay by weight,” Duque said.
The Rhode Islander was inspired to open the refill station after volunteering in Los Angeles, where she saw how access to environmentally friendly products and stores was limited to predominantly white areas.
“In LA, I would go into Hollywood, Long Beach, or Beverly Hills, and I would see clean streets, recycling bins everywhere, trash cans everywhere, co-ops, and Whole Foods on every corner,” she said. “Then when I would go to the inner-city schools where I worked, and I would see trash everywhere, plastic everywhere, and my students were eating Cheetos for breakfast.”
While in Los Angeles, Duque also first learned about the zero-waste movement and refill-station concept.
“I didn't really know about zero waste until I stumbled upon a shop in Long Beach that had a refill station for bath, body, and cleaning products,” she said. “They told me about zero waste and that you can save money and be zero waste at the same time. I had always thought it would be a very expensive thing.”
After returning home to Rhode Island, she felt the void of a similar concept, and decided to start Green Tenderfoot to bring the zero-waste movement to people of color and minority communities here.
“You mostly see white people in the zero-waste environmental-awareness movement,” Duque said. “ And I think me being a Latina woman who grew up in Pawtucket and Central Falls, well, I don’t think people expect someone like me to even be thinking about the environment. I want to target people of color and people in underdeveloped communities and show the world that we can be part of the zero-waste movement.”
Duque also wants to educate people that being zero waste or low waste doesn’t mean spending a lot of money.
“I always try to say only buy what you need. Look around you, you probably have utensils that you can pack in your bag, you don’t need to buy things like bamboo utensils to reduce your waste.”
You can find Green Tenderfoot’s pop-ups at 881 Main St. in Pawtucket, the Schoolyard Market at Hope & Main in Warren, and Urban Greens in Providence. Follow her on Instagram (@greentenderfoot) for date and time information.