Single-use items are of no interest to local business Empty Bin Zero Waste

by Derek Kreider

In 2008, Teresa Mazey was driving a truck. Now, 12 years later, she’s operating her own business with three locations. Teresa is the founder of Empty Bin Zero Waste, a company that makes and sells reusable housewares meant to replace single-use products. 

Empty Bin Zero Waste is more than a retail outlet. It’s a way of life Teresa is trying to pass along.

“I’m really trying to get people to start homesteading, start getting away from the need for large corporations. We can do everything they can do better, cheaper and cleaner,” Teresa says. 

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Beeswax wraps replace shrink wrap. Hand-sewn sandwich bags replace their plastic counterparts. Teresa even sells her own blend of laundry detergent.

To facilitate people’s interest in getting out from under the thumb of large companies and corporations that pollute, Teresa sells a DIY recipe book with instructions on how to make common household items like shaving cream or oven cleaner.

“At our store in Canton, we have a bunch of bulk items,” she says. “People can get all the ingredients they need to make their own lip balm, or make their own shampoo.”  

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For those disinclined to take the time to make these things themselves, there are scores of already-made items for sale at the Empty Bin Zero Waste flagship store in Canton, as well as a storefront at Northside Marketplace in Akron and Alley Cats Marketplace in New Philadelphia. Shampoo bars, lip balm and wax wraps can all be had for reasonable prices, and they’re made using ecologically friendly and sustainable methods. The only location carrying bulk items is the store in Canton because of space constraints at the two other stores.   

Teresa’s commitment to the Empty Bin Zero Waste ethos means that one of her biggest struggles is finding other zero-waste companies to work with that adhere to the guidelines she’s set for her own business. According to Teresa it’s almost impossible to find companies that source the materials she needs that aren’t packaged in ways that are harmful to the environment.  

“If you order stuff from another zero waste store, why do they send it to you in a [plastic] bag?” Teresa asks. Even biodegradable packing peanuts are anathema to her mission because, while they might be biodegradable, they aren’t backyard compostable — thus creating more waste. 

“I don’t know if I’m, like, over-the-top, but it’s what I believe in and I want complete transparency with my customers,” she says.

Overcoming that dichotomy can be frustrating, but Empty Bin Zero Waste’s customers keep Teresa dedicated to her goal. The reaction to her business is the antithesis of negativity. “I’ve had people come in and cry because they were so happy that somebody opened something [like this],” Teresa says. 

Aside from being a retail outlet, Empty Bin Zero Waste’s physical stores act as incubators for conversations about living an eco-friendly lifestyle. “I get families in there, right, and one will be laughing about something like, ‘That’s absolutely ridiculous,’ and then the kid will be like ‘No, it has to happen because of this, this, and this,” Teresa says. “They’ll have a whole discussion.”

Starting down the path of a zero-waste lifestyle seems daunting, but there are a few relatively small steps people can take in the beginning that will make a world of difference.

“I always tell people to start with bags, ‘cause that’s the easiest thing,” Teresa says. “Start always remembering your bag when you go grocery shopping, and if you forget it, just don’t use a bag. When it’s 30 degrees and you gotta load everything individually into your car, you’ll start remembering.

“The second best [thing to do] is bringing a drink with you in a reusable cup so that you’re not using a disposable cup,” Teresa says. 

But the key to sustaining the lifestyle is easing into it. “Master one thing, get comfortable with it, and then move on,” Teresa says.

Perhaps surprisingly, Teresa advocates for improvising before buying. “Always use what you have at home before you buy anything. I’m a retail company, straight up just selling that. You do not need to buy what I have, you can make it,” she says. “You can cut up a T-shirt and that gives you hankies, that gives you paper towels.” If you get creative, you’d be surprised what you don’t need to buy. 

Certainly there’s the larger ecological impact to consider, but there’s also the economic impact on the individual. The laundry detergent that Teresea has been making for five years cost roughly $3 for about 50 loads. 

As with so many small businesses, Empty Bin Zero Waste’s operations have been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 26, Empty Bin Zero Waste told its Instagram followers that the business is closed and not currently fulfilling online orders. The post encourages users to still leave reviews or start a wishlist on their website. Those interested in supporting the store while it’s shut down are encouraged to purchase an e-gift card for use when the store reopens. Unfortunately, there is a note on their website stating that their Northside Marketplace location will be closing permanently in September.

With business temporarily suspended, Teresa is working on making a back stock of items that she sews (handkerchiefs, for example), making some new items and organizing business files. She’s also been doing her part to help out during the emergency.

“I donated a bunch of fabric, elastic and wire to others that are making face masks,” she says. 

That she would donate her supplies to those working to keep others safe is no surprise. Empty Bin Zero Waste’s dedication to doing good is best summed up by the founder herself:       

“I’m just doing what I’m passionate about and trying to make a difference,” Teresa says. “If that means that someone uses a [reusable] bag instead of a plastic bag, then it’s a win.”

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