By Jack Rubinger

The recent news that China is banning imports of plastic from the United State for environmental reasons is frustrating to some and angering others. Still, there is a place where you can reuse plastic containers by shopping in bulk. It’s located in the heart of SE Portland: the People’s Co-op, on SE 21st St. near Powell and south of Division.

The co-op encourages customers to bring in their reusable containers for bulk items, and many shoppers are dedicated to doing that.

People’s also offers a variety of reusable containers in the store for bulk items or whatever else shoppers might need them for, including pint and quart-size plastic tubs.

There are glass jars, bottles, and jugs too to use for bulk foods, herbs, teas. The store carries kombucha on tap, as well as bulk shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and laundry and dish soaps.

By providing reusable containers for a large selection of bulk items, the co-op works together with the community to use as little disposable packaging as possible, working toward zero-waste living.

The co-op carries products in glass bottles, which shoppers can return in exchange for a bottle deposit. Those bottles are returned to vendors, who reuse them again for their product.

Some of these products include milks from Schoch Dairy (Hillsboro, OR); Garry’s Milk from Lady-Lane Farm (Mulino, OR); and Fern’s Edge Goat Dairy (Lowell, OR); Captured by Porches beer; and Lion Heart Kombucha growlers.

Shoppers are encouraged to bring in used paper bags and egg cartons for reuse too.

People’s Co-op fills several important niches in the community: the vegetarian grocery store, the reduced and zero-waste shopping, and the “shop local, organic, and non-GMO”  niche.

People’s doesn’t sell meat, and the animal by-products carried (like eggs and milk) are ethically produced. Many are locally-sourced.

“Carrying organically grown and produced products is a priority for us, and if we carry anything with GMOs in it, we’ll make sure you know about it.

“As I recall, we only have one product in the store right now with GMOs in it, which I think is truly amazing,” said Gabi de Leon, Marketing & Design Manager and Co-manager.

“We are dedicated to supporting local farmers and food producers too, so much of the produce in our lush produce section is from local farmers. A lot of our bulk and packaged grocery products around are sourced from local producers.”

There are several major factors that set People’s apart from conventional grocery stores.

The first is that People’s, a community owned cooperative ,collectively-managed.

About 4,500 members own the store and some of those members work or volunteer at the Co-op too. Every member gets to vote in democratic elections and membership at the Co-op is open to all.

In this business’ non-hierarchical structure, there are 30 or so collective managers who each manage their respective departments while working together to run the Co-op in the best way possible.

One misconception about the Co-op is that only Member-Owners can shop there but that is not true – everyone is welcome.

Some feel it’s very expensive to shop at co-ops in general. While it is true that organic, non-GMO, and local foods can be a bit more expensive than the ultra-low-priced foods shoppers may find at conventional grocery stores, People’s works with National Co-op Grocers (the co-op for co-ops) to provide competitively low-priced staples for shoppers.

A sampling of reusable containers available at People’s.

People’s offers quarterly 10% off coupons to member-owners. A program called Food For All gives a 5% discount on groceries for Member-Owners who could use some support with accessing healthful, quality groceries.

As for the future, slow and thoughtful discussions and meetings are underway to determine what People’s might look like and feel like 5-10 years from now.

At this point, the vibe is very positive, from the outstanding free yoga classes in the upstairs room to the cute little kids’ area in the corner, to the amazing array of bulk items that just can’t be found anywhere else in Portland.

People’s Co-op is at 3029 SE 21st Ave. and open daily from 8 am – 10 pm. 503.ORGANIC. www.peoples.coop