A year ago, I made a resolution to live with less plastic. A faithful user of cloth bags and metal straws, I nevertheless felt myself subconsciously slipping. The trash was piling up faster and the plastic was creeping—sometimes flooding—in with each purchase. It was time for a good ol’ waste audit. I stockpiled my trash over the span of five days, much to my roommate’s dismay, to get the full picture of what I was tossing. The waste I was producing was overwhelming, and I felt a deeper call to action. I began to reassess how I consumed and the businesses I bought from.
Thankfully, we live in a state that values the environment and cares about tackling plastic pollution, making low–waste living that much easier. Just last spring, Maine became the first in the nation to enact a foam ban when Governor Janet Mills signed a bill prohibiting the use of Styrofoam cups and containers in food sales (effective starting 2021). A month later, Maine secured its position as the third state in the U.S. to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. Most recently at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Summit, Governor Mills announced her intention to make Maine carbon neutral by 2045. And on a societal level, we’re seeing another promising shift in the right direction: the rise of local businesses and brands with a mission to cut waste and make a positive environmental impact. These are the places that I’ve turned to over the last year to help me become an eco-conscious consumer, and they’re the places I hope you’ll start to turn to as well.
I’m a true sucker for the sneaky plastic … the small container of good-smelling lotion disguised in excessive packaging with eye-catching, brightly colored branding. Despite my passion for the environment, I was purchasing these wasteful products out of mindless habit due to a lifelong dependency on plastic. Enter: GoGo Refill. Just over the bridge in South Portland’s Knightville, owner Laura Marston is tackling the plastic problem head-on. In her welcoming, brightly lit shop, she sells all-natural kitchen, cleaning, bath, body, and personal-care products in bulk. Customers bring their own reusable vessels to fill with the products, though glass and metal containers are also available for purchase. My favorite part about GoGo? The products actually work. I’m a faithful user of the Routine natural cream deodorant, the Four Elements body oil, and the Yay for Earth sensitive-skin face lotion. Laura proves you can give up waste without having to give up the products you love most.
New to Portland’s eco-friendly business scene is the Montreal-based restaurant Copper Branch, located in a stunning circular glass building at 1 Canal Plaza in the Old Port. Their plant-based menu is filled with vegan meals that are good for you and the planet. This fast-casual chain has environmental ethics at its core: In choosing to eat vegan, we automatically eliminate the most harmful causes of the current environmental devastation, such as deforestation, water use, land use, and—you guessed it—waste production. As for the packaging, Copper Branch utilizes compostable containers and works directly with suppliers to ensure distribution is kept to a minimum. Their oven-baked poutine (made from non-GMO cremini and portobello mushrooms) is a personal favorite when I’m craving a healthier take on comfort food.
Around the corner on Exchange Street, Blake Orchard provides another opportunity for plant-based eating. Situated in a cozy basement space with pink wallpaper and copious succulents, Blake Orchard has some of the best raw juices and smoothie bowls in town. Better yet, their product line is always glass-bottled, allowing you to drink your greens and stay away from single-use plastic packaging.
When it comes to shopping sustainably, steer clear of fast fashion. Forging eco-friendly shopping habits may seem like a challenge, but Portland (and Maine at large) is filled with clothing stores and brands that offer high-quality apparel made sustainably. At Portland Dry Goods on Commercial Street, owner Michael Force makes a point to carry several small-batch designers who are drastically cutting back on their waste by producing less. Look out for labels such as Kordal, Portuguese Flannel, and Herno. New York–based Kordal is a personal favorite, with pieces made from hand loom and Shima Seiki knitting machines that create a fully fashioned product knit to the exact shape without any leftover material waste.
A few blocks over on the waterfront is Suger, where owner and designer Roxi Suger sells her sustainable clothing line angelrox. She hand-stitches each garment with organic plant-based fibers (engineered to minimize waste) in the historic textile mills of Biddeford, just down the road from Suger’s flagship store on Alfred Street. Other notable eco-conscious Maine-based clothing brands include Brook There, Ramblers Way, and Rudy Jude. Another favorite eco-conscious Maine-based brand is Sea Bags, selling nautically inspired totes and accessories upcycled from recycled sails.
However, the most sustainable way to shop—and the most budget-friendly—is consignment. When you purchase preowned clothes, you’re keeping them out of landfills and supporting a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. Haberdashery on Congress Street near the State Theater is my go-to for secondhand shopping and consigning clothes of my own. And next time I head north, I’m eager to stop at Guru Vintage + Modern in Bath.
In North America alone, the salon industry generates 421,206 pounds of trash daily. So when I asked Decor Maine’s associate publisher Susan Pritzker how she maintained such healthy-looking hair in the midst of a dry Maine winter, I was ecstatic to learn about Lavender, a holistic salon on Washington Avenue with a mission to reduce waste. Lavender is a proud member of Green Circle Salons, a program that allows salons to repurpose and recover up to 95 percent of the resources that were once considered waste, including materials such as hair, leftover hair color, foils, color tubes, aerosol cans, paper, and plastics. I’ll be scheduling my much-needed haircut ASAP.
To round out my guide for the green consumer, I must confess my greatest challenge: groceries. Despite my efforts, I seem to always leave the supermarket with unnecessary items in excessive packaging. I’m learning more sustainable strategies as I go, and trust me, I make plenty of mistakes that lead to major plastic guilt, but Portland Food Co-op and Rosemont Market & Bakery are two places that have proved to be great resources for someone who wants to buy in bulk and keep waste to a minimum. Both companies are committed to supporting local and regional producers, providing the freshest food through the most sustainable practices for our community.
Low-waste living won’t happen overnight. It’s a process. It takes time, practice, research, and sacrifice. But if I can give any advice from my experience it would be this: Stay mindful of how you live and what you use. Get creative, remain dedicated to the cause, and inspire those around you to do the same. Even the smallest of changes can make a big impact.