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COVID-19: With planning, zero waste can survive pandemic

Vancouver Sun logo Vancouver Sun 2021-01-20 Denise Ryan
Livlite founder Grace Kennedy with son Casey, age 2, in North Vancouver. © Provided by Vancouver Sun Livlite founder Grace Kennedy with son Casey, age 2, in North Vancouver.
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Living an eco-friendly life just got a little easier thanks to Grace Kennedy, an entrepreneur whose grocery delivery service Livlite is the latest addition in the local environmental tool box aimed at reducing waste.

But the timing — she hoped to launch last March — couldn’t have been worse. Although the zero-waste movement , a conservation movement that aims to retool how we use and reuse items, took a hit from COVID-19 — cafes could no longer fill reusable coffee mugs, tote bags became problematic, takeout meant the return to single-use items, and health authorities didn’t want to even hear about reusable grocery containers.

“We were in phase 1 at the start of pandemic, everyone was on high alert, and here I am talking about reusing glass containers,” said Kennedy.

The response from health authorities, said Kennedy, was simply no.

“There is no stronger no than that, during a pandemic, but that was a no I had to take. The lesson was about recognizing what you have control over and what you don’t have control over.”

Kennedy, a former marketing professional and mother of a toddler didn’t give up.

Although she had always advocated environmentalism, motherhood had heightened her awareness of the sheer volume of single use containers that moved in and out of her home.

“When I was at home on mat leave, I started to notice the waste — it wasn’t just diapers and baby wipes, it was cleaning supplies, packaging, containers.”

“Recycling is finite,” said Kennedy. There is a limit to the number of times paper can be recycled, plastics end up in landfills, and recycled items need to be sorted and shipped to other continents for processing.

Kennedy was already a supporter of the zero waste movement . “Zero waste is aspirational. There is no perfect way to do it, but everything we do has an impact,” said Kennedy.

She frequented Vancouver’s original refillery , where patrons bring their own jars and containers for refills of soap and cleaning products, and package-free groceries like Nada , but toting her infant son brought new challenges.

“I was overwhelmed as a new mom. It didn’t feel doable to bring my own containers, juggling a baby who wanted to nurse, and trying to fill things up,” said Kennedy.

She wondered if she could make better choices more accessible.

Kennedy conceived of Livlite (, a grocery service that sources local products and delivers them in reusable or compostable containers.

“There is no packaging waste that can’t be returned to us, composted or recycled,” said Kennedy. That means glass jars for liquids (a small deposit for the returnable jars is built into the price), and other items are packaged in recycled paper bags, or compostable packaging.

Everything returned is sanitized in a high-heat commercial washing process.

By May, as the province prepared to reopen, the health authorities jumped on board.

“When phase 2 came in, they said they would consider my proposal. I was so, so happy.”

Jennie Moore, director of institute sustainability at BCIT said that when health authorities didn’t know much about COVID-19, the response was to scale back. “Now there has been a reversal. With the right protocols people have found a way to revert to more sustainable ways of dealing with products.”

Our environmental challenge haven’t gone away, said Moore. “We took a slight pause with COVID, but these bigger challenges are still unfolding. I’m hoping we won’t just bounce back from COVID, but that it gives us an opportunity to bounce forward into better behaviours.”

Livlite launched in August with a curated selection of dairy, fresh local produce, beans and pulses, grains, pastas, nut butters, coffee, tea, condiments and household products available for delivery Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Delivery is available within the boundaries of Vancouver, but there are plans to eventually expand throughout the Lower Mainland.

Although there are no electric fleet vans available for delivery, Kennedy plans to convert as soon as the option is available.

“Doing something around environmentalism is really purposeful for me because it’s not just the future of my son, it’s trying to inspire different ways of consuming that don’t adversely impact other parts of the world.”



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