By Ellen Spitaleri
Ross Ching knows that Mama & Hapa’s Zero Waste Shop isn’t going to cure climate change, but he hopes it does make people more mindful of where an object comes from and where it goes when it is empty.
“We wanted to change people’s mindset around the environment. A thing’s life doesn’t start when you buy it,” he said.
Ching and his wife Nadia Takla opened the shop at SE 14th Ave. and Stark St. in mid-May, and they love the location because it is close to where they live, the rent is affordable and the big windows let in lots of light.
He noted that he and his wife have a child, so Takla is the Mama in the store’s name, and he is the Hapa. In Hawaiian, Hapa is a person who is mixed race; Ching is half Chinese and half white.
As for the rest of the shop’s name, it refers to the place where customers can get all their household and personal care products minus all the extraneous packaging. People can bring in their own containers to refill or they can take some of the free glass jars in the shop and fill those.
Mama & Hapa’s uses a unique pumping system to dispense liquids, like household cleaners and face wash, so customers do not have to weigh their containers at any point.
The first time Ching went to a zero waste shop, he thought it was a hassle to have to weigh containers before and after filling them. So he did research and came across the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system.
When customers come into Mama & Hapa’s, they pick up an RFID card, head to one of the pumps, hold the empty container under the spout, put the card in a holder and keep a careful eye on volume while dispensing the product.
The shop provides labels to attach to the containers, so customers can identify the products when they get home. Once the containers are filled, customers give the RFID card to the cashier who will use it to determine how much they owe. The shop accepts payment by credit/debit card only.
However, the shop is about more than just refillable bottles. There are many household products, like bamboo utensils, reusable straws, bar soap and toothpaste.
One of Ching’s favorite products is dental floss made from bamboo fiber. “It is black, so you can see all the gunk between your teeth, and it comes in a refillable glass container, so you never need to buy floss in a plastic container again,” he noted.
With Christmas just around the corner, Ching recommended several items as ideal stocking stuffers, including collapsible silicon storage containers and silicon bags to use in place of Ziplock bags, washable beeswax wraps to cover half an onion and unpaper towels.
The latter “fit on your paper towel dispenser, so you can peel one off, use it and then throw it in the laundry,” Ching said.
The shop also sells Fair Trade coffee in glass jars along with stainless-steel mesh coffee filters.
In addition, Mama & Hapa’s offers e-gift cards and the recipient receives an email card to print out, instead of a plastic card. Because much of the standard colorful Christmas wrapping paper is not recyclable, the shop sells a decorative canvas bag to put all the gifts in.
When Ching and his wife set out to open the shop, they wanted to show people that everyone can re-use and recycle things.
“Do it yourself is the way to go to reduce waste,” he said, noting most of the furnishings in the shop are second-hand or re-purposed.
“It doesn’t have to involve buying things. It was good for us to set an example,” he said, adding that he and his wife had three major goals in opening a zero waste store.
“We wanted to provide free glass jars. It is better to wash out a jar and re-use it, rather than to recycle it. We wanted a system where customers did not have to weigh their containers and we wanted to be closer to our customers, so people don’t have to spend half a gallon of gas to get to us,” he said.
The overall goal is to be “within two miles of everyone in Portland and see if we can be profitable,” Ching said. He and his wife are hoping to open another shop on Mississippi Ave. in December.
Finally, “we want to be affordable for everyone. Zero waste shouldn’t be expensive.”
Mama & Hapa’s Zero Waste Shop
1389 SE Stark St.
Photo by Dick Trtek: Co-owner Ross Ching uses RFID card