Reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse: these are tenets of Eco and the Flamingo, Evanston and Chicago’s first zero waste general stores.
“(Sustainability’s) just been our guiding value from the beginning — if a company wasn’t sustainable, we weren’t going to work with them,” co-founder Bethany Barbouti said. “That was just one area we were never going to cut costs. If we couldn’t afford it, we would just have to wait.”
Co-founders Barbouti and Jackie MacCartie opened their first location in early 2020 and a second location of their zero waste general store on Jan. 8 at 1551 Sherman Ave. The store sells sustainable products for kitchen, bath, groceries and more.
According to MacCartie, Evanston’s former Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer Kumar Jensen came to the store’s Chicago location and recommended they expand to Evanston. They decided to open a North Shore location to bring their products to more people.
“It’s a really cool set of different minds and bodies that come in here and just are super happy that we’re here,” MacCartie said.
Evanston resident April Serrano said she practices a low-waste lifestyle. When she noticed Eco pop up within walking distance of her home, she was ecstatic. Serrano said she loves Eco’s commitment to reducing plastic waste and appreciates how many products are sourced locally. Eco stocks their store with products from many local businesses, including the Chicago-based Spirit Tea.
“I love geeking out on stuff like that,” Serrano said.
Her favorite purchases include a jute scrubber and a silicone bag, and she said she is looking forward to buying mineral sunscreen on her next visit.
MacCartie said trying to balance affordability and sustainability is something that Eco has had to perfect since they are competing with larger companies. These larger companies are able to offer products at lower prices because of scale and the less-than-stellar ethics of their providers, she said.
She added that the store educates shoppers on what goes into each product so they can fully understand the cost.
Evanston resident Natalia Moreno Polomarkakis said she bought a set of bamboo mason jar lids at the Evanston location this past week. While she said the low-waste lifestyle may seem intimidating to some, Eco felt like a welcoming, accessible place for people at all levels of sustainability. The store has helped Moreno Polomarkakis think more deeply about what she consumes.
“We’re used to instant gratification with Amazon, whatever we need at the touch of our fingers,” she said. “We can all look at what we consume in a way that’s more holistic or just slower.”
Barbouti and MacCartie said they hope to improve Eco’s accessibility by opening a location in the South Side of Chicago and other areas that may not always have access to affordable, sustainable goods.
The store is still in its soft opening phase and is open Friday through Monday. Barbouti said they plan to hold a grand opening in the next week or so. She said they also hope to host community events once they find their footing at the new location.
Serrano said she is looking forward to incorporating more Eco products into her life as well as seeing how the store integrates into her local community.
“This type of store really does fit in with the Evanston community, and it’s so great to have somebody so local doing this kind of work here in Evanston,” Serrano said. “I’m just really excited to see them thrive and grow.”
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