Maria Vasco opened Boston’s first zero-waste shop in the North End six months after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She opened a second location in East Boston during the pandemic and continues to educate her community on sustainability and the importance of recognizing climate change.
ELENA: A wall of thriving plants greet customers as they enter Uvida shop in East Boston. The plants careen towards the sun streaming through the large front window. The store has a minimalist flare, with shelves lined neatly featuring sustainable products. It’s hot inside, the shop is a greenhouse in early March.
Maria Vasco is the owner of Uvida shop, Boston’s first and only zero waste store. She’s a 23-year old entrepreneur and immigrant from Cali, Colombia who has a mission to educate the community on sustainability. She just opened the second location of her store in East Boston, the first location is in Boston’s North End.
Today we’ll learn about what a zero waste store is and why it’s important for an environmental justice community like East Boston to have access to a resource like Uvida shop.
MARIA: So a zero-waste store is a store that’s focused on offering plastic-free products to usually everyday essentials that we all use. And some of the main basics are like toothpaste, deodorant shampoo. We’re trying to focus on products that we use every day and are essential to our routines, not just products that are, you know, throwaways or something that you just buy for the season.
ELENA: For Maria, committing to a zero waste lifestyle didn’t happen over night. As a college student at Umass Boston Maria looked at many career pathways.
MARIA: So for me, when I was looking at different career options, and after learning about climate change, I just felt like everything would just go back to that.
ELENA: She made the switch to environmental studies but found herself in a moral dilemma.
MARIA: I would go home. And I felt like a disconnection between me like writing essays and volunteering and advocating against plastic, but then going home and saying like, Okay, I need to go buy more plastic deodorant, I need to buy this makeup for this event, like, you know, the consumerism side of me just clashed with the advocacy side of me.
ELENA: Maria grew to love the idea of zero waste stores.
MARIA: And I always said, it didn’t matter who opened it, I would completely shop there all the time.
ELENA: Her business initially began online, but she wanted a store front to help build community. It took a lot of market research and saving up, but six months after graduating college she had her first store front. The success of the North End store supported the opening of her East Boston Shop.
MARIA: As someone who has always lived in Boston, and always was taking the train, I also really wanted the store to be accessible by the train and walking.
ELENA: Accessibility has been important to the growth of Uvida shop. East Boston often came up in Maria’s college classes as an example of environmental injustice.
MARIA: And so I’m like, why is it that my neighborhood is always on the case studies is like, what I’m writing essay about where we’re studying, like my neighborhood, like I live here, and I have family here. And I’ve been here for 20 years. So I just didn’t like that clash.
ELENA: By opening up in East Boston, it’s Maria’s way of giving back to her community.
MARIA: And so yeah, it’s been very clear for me from the beginning that East Boston is a non safe zone in terms of climate change, and sea level rise. And it is a lot of POCs people of color, marginalized groups. So I, you know, being raised here, I was like, I naturally am prone to want to protect these communities. And obviously, one person cannot do everything. And we’ve all learned that in our own ways. So what I just thought is like, what can I do to do like, some kind of impact and because I already opened in the North End, then I was like, okay, I think I can bring that here.
ELENA: Maria has big plans for the shop. She hopes to expand the refill program and is already using her new space to host community events.