Few aspects of modern life require a larger amount of denial than the waste we produce every single day. We’re seeing the planet turn into a huge garbage can, but it seems like there isn’t much we can do because most of what we consume comes wrapped in disposable containers. But environmentalist Christine Sorich, 34, decided to face this urgent issue and do things differently.
“My hypersensitivity to packaging waste, food miles, and commercialized agriculture could all be addressed with a new food shopping experience,” she says. After meticulous planning, which took into consideration every aspect of the food chain, Sorich launched Tinyshop last September, a zero-waste grocer “where the shop is eensie, the waste is weensie, and your impact is teenie-tiny,” according to her slogan. “Even ethical brands overlook the problem of single-use packaging waste,” she says. “I am working with many vendors to create a container swap program for my wholesale purchases, which effectively cuts down on packaging waste that consumers don’t even know exists. Then, once the products arrive at Tinyshop, they are portioned into jars. These jars go out on a deposit system with hopes that our customers will bring them back for us to sanitize and refill. So in a way, Tinyshop is really just an anti-packaging, packaging company—a closed-loop packaging shop. I’m really just a modern-day milkwoman, with hopes of carrying plant-based milks as soon as we get refrigeration.”
Conscious not only of the environment but also of the busy lives people have, Sorich—an art director for TV commercials and a very busy person herself—decided to create an easy system for people to shop while using non-disposable containers. With a small deposit of up to $2, she conveniently provides the mason jars that contain the grocery items she sells. To carry those jars, Sorich designed a special tote bag that perfectly accommodates them. For now, customers can place orders online at Tinyshop’s website. Pickup and payment are done on Sundays at pop-ups in restaurants and markets such as Bungalow by Middlebrow and Daisies in Logan Square. Delivery made by electric car is also available for $5.
“Most zero waste shops and bulk sections around the world cater to folk who are already acclimated to the cumbersome and lengthy shopping process of filling personal containers themselves,” she says. “Tinyshop does that packing in house, to make the shopping experience more like just pulling what you want off of the shelves. This offers customers a simple, convenient way to buy in bulk responsibly and without waste.”
But it’s not only packaging Sorich is concerned about; she is also careful about what goes inside those mason jars. Products should be “as local, organic, and fair as possible.”
“There are certain things that just aren’t grown here,” she says, “but as a rule, I start my hunt in Chicago then look into options within Illinois, into the midwest, and outward from there. By supporting local farms and businesses, we can support our economy and lower food miles. I figure if people have a grocer they can truly trust, who gives all of the info transparently, then it takes a lot of the guesswork out of the very complicated act of grocery shopping.” Tinyshop’s website tells customers the contents and provenance of each product, and what kind of packaging they were delivered in. Transparency is at the heart of Sorich’s business: “I thought, let me curate a selection of goods that I deem most environmentally sound, items that I use myself, let me work with vendors and makers on setting up new, zero-waste systems, and let me do all of that research for you. I promise, with every Tinyshop product, I have exhausted all questions and options, and if I haven’t yet, I will let you know that too. It’s a transparency and loyalty service that really focuses on making the most out of your grocery spending,” she says.
Established just a few months ago, and still considered a pilot program, Tinyshop already carries more than 50 products. Those include grains, flours, vegan proteins such as seeds, nuts, and legumes, dried fruits, and a selection of environmentally-friendly hygiene and household goods. It also offers honey from Hive Supply, coffee beans from Kusanya Cafe, and bread from Middle Brow Bungalow—all local businesses with community outreach programs. As for prices, Sorich vows to keep them down by buying in bulk, trimming her operational costs, and keeping rent low by working from Garfield Park. “I want healthy, conscious buying to be accessible to all Chicagoans,” she says. With the support of eco-minded friends like Jay Moore, who often helps her at Sunday pop-ups, Sorich runs not only a tiny but also a tight ship. v