28 May 2018
Zero Sum Gain
Entrepreneur Tamsin Thornburrow opened possibly Hong Kong’s first zero-waste grocery store, Live Zero, in February 2018. Located in Sai Ying Pun, the shop sells essential bulk grocery items and eco-friendly living products, while minimizing packaging. Ms Thornburrow, who opened the home decor store Thorn and Burrow when she was just 22, talks about her solution to changing the way Hong Kong consumers shop.
How did you first come up with the idea for Live Zero?
I've always tried to be environmentally friendly but early last year I became increasingly aware of the plastic epidemic taking over our oceans, and the issue of waste here in Hong Kong. I realised that a huge amount of waste comes from the unnecessary packaging surrounding food, and I struggled to find a solution. I was inspired to create Live Zero -- a store where the Hong Kong community could find organic, healthy food at an affordable price and most importantly, without all the packaging.
What has been the response to the shop since it opened?
The response to the store has been overwhelmingly positive, and surpassed all of my expectations. The Hong Kong community was definitely ready for a zero waste grocery option and our customers are all enthusiastic about reducing their waste consumption. Our most popular products are the pantry staples - items like quinoa, rice and oats. The cleaning products and toiletries are also popular, as customers are able to fill up their old containers instead of constantly repurchasing toiletries in plastic containers.
Who are your customers?
We have a huge range of customers from people just starting their zero waste journey to people who have been living 'zero waste' for years! Many of our regular customers live in Sai Ying Pun, although we have several local and expatriate customers from all around Hong Kong! It's so exciting to meet customers who are starting to take small steps towards sustainability - all the small actions add up and help reduce waste.
What are some of the challenges in operating a zero-waste and packaging-free store, especially in Hong Kong?
Initially the main challenge was sourcing all our food in bulk, now it's storing all the food correctly, especially [with] Hong Kong’s humidity. Another challenge is restocking - it's super labour intensive, especially when we are such a small team.
While Thorn and Burrow and Live Zero are different businesses, was there anything that you learned from opening Thorn and Burrow that you brought to Live Zero?
Thorn and Burrow gave me the business experience I needed for Live Zero -- how to plan, operate and run a business. I also learnt a lot about sourcing -- where to source great products and how to bring them into the store.
How has opening Live Zero and learning about a zero-waste lifestyle impacted you?
It's had a huge impact on my own life. I'm more environmentally aware than I've ever been and I'm constantly making changes in my own lifestyle to move towards being totally zero waste. I never buy anything with plastic packaging and always bring my reusables with me. I've also learned so much about the environment, and met some incredibly inspiring people.
How do you hope to grow the business as well as awareness about a zero waste lifestyle?
We hope to open in more locations so that zero waste grocery shopping is more accessible to everyone in Hong Kong. We also hope to run a blog and continue to raise awareness of zero waste living on social media.
Thorn and Burrow