May 28, 2024

Zero Waste shop feature: Wasteupso Korea

“We work with different organizations and festivals to help people see and understand the ease of shopping zero-waste. Luckily, we have many Europeans living in Korea who know about zero-waste shopping, which helps Koreans get a better sense of the zero-waste concept. We feel this is what makes our company unique; the merging of East and West. As a collective, we hope to expand everyone’s perspectives on zero-waste living.” -Kychele Boone, Wasteupso

Photo: Wasteupso Korea

As part of our commitment at Pacific Roots Magazine to continue learning more about zero-waste education, aims and low impact lifestyle, we love to take time to chat with researchers, bloggers, activists and shops around the world in the zero-waste movement. The goal is to glean more understanding of how we can incorporate new habits and routines into our life for more sustainable living as well as to feature and celebrate the work of individuals worldwide contributing to sustainability education and giving people the tools and awareness to make changes.

We were excited to have the opportunity to interview Seoul based Ms. Kychele Boone, founder of Wasteupso Korea. Originally from the USA, Kychele lives in South Korea where she founded zero-waste speciality grocery store Wasteupso in Summer of 2018. Congratulations on your one year mark Kychele!

Photo: Wasteupso Korea

Interview with Kychele Boone of Wasteupso Korea

Wasteupso is not only a shop but also a community center for people to learn about various issues connected to ecological living. Can you share more about this aspect of Wasteupso?

Kychele: At Wasteupso, our mission is to help our customers save money, while simultaneously saving the planet. One of our core goals is to educate our members and customers on ways to reduce their waste, be self-sufficient, and grow through community building. We hold classes, events, and create video content to teach DIYs, highlight eco-friendly and eco-conscious companies in the country, and connect with governmental and non-governmental organizations to be more inclusive of the movement and not 100% focused on just commerce for saving the planet.

Photo: Wasteupso Korea

You yourself are interested in veganism, correct? I understand that Wasteupso is not a vegan store, but how do vegan ethics connect to the ethos of the shop?

Kychele: That is correct, I am interested in veganism. Though Wasteupso is not a vegan company, we do bring veganism into how we operate our business. We do our best to be a fair-trade company. When we source vendors, we make sure to do as much research and ask the most in-depth questions to ensure their business practices. Moreover, we do not sell products with palm oil. Lastly, we consider healthy eating a human right, so we make an effort to make our items accessible, affordable, and plentiful to reach as many customers as possible.

Photo: Wasteupso

What is your perspective of the awareness of Zero-Waste and Low-Impact lifestyle in Korea?

Kychele: The concept of zero-waste is really growing in the country. More and more organizations and companies are popping up, the government is getting involved more and more businesses are changing their practices in order to adhere to customer demand. Here in Korea, veganism is becoming a growing trend and they are attaching zero-waste and plastic-free [lifestyles] to veganism. This has sparked many festivals, programs, and even master’s degree programs.

Photo: Wasteupso Korea

In your perspective, what are some of the primary challenges to Zero-Waste and Low-Impact living?

Kychele: The primary challenge is access to resources to enable a zero-waste lifestyle. Korea has many laws that prohibit certain products to be offered through zero-waste. Luckily, it appears that things may be changing in the coming year.

Photo: Wasteupso

Are you particularly interested in any specific movement or cause related to Zero-Waste or happening with specific campaigns?

Kychele: We focus primarily on being plastic-free. The government here has already put a ban on plastic bags (which has expanded to even the clear plastic bags in grocery store produce sections, which are only allowed to be used for wet items and meat), so we adhere to that and encourage our customers to bring their own bags. We take it a step further by having our customers bring their own containers to shop. Our customers and members also donate jars and containers to us in order to keep costs low and access high.

Photo: Wasteupso Korea

I saw a post, on your FB page, with this caption: “I have pitched Wasteupso to various contests, eco-festivals, government organizations and more! They ALL denied Wasteupso’s potential success, citing Korean inability to adapt.” I sense that many people may initially focus on what they perceive as the inconvenience of shopping low-waste. What are your thoughts on this? Clearly, at Wasteupso, one of your key activities is education so in a way your very mission is geared to helping people adapt.

Kychele: I feel that people initially shy away from things that are unfamiliar and new. This could be the case for judges in competitions believing that a zero-waste grocery would not work, but I believe the retaliation comes from [a] lack of engaged thought about the subject.

Wasteupso is trying, effortlessly, to help consumers understand that the transition to zero-waste is not really a transition at all. Shopping here in Korea is already very different from the West. When shopping at grocery stores in Korea, most customers already were not using plastic bags to carry away their items. Their process is a bit taxing, yet they see no issue with their process.

  1. They place their items in their shopping cart when browsing
  2. Once they reach the checkout counters, they place their items on the counter to purchase
  3. Then, place them back in their shopping cart without bags
  4. Then, they move to the boxing sections of the store to find a box that will fit their items
  5. Upon finding a box, they tape the bottom and begin filling the box with their groceries
  6. Then, they place this box back in the shopping cart and proceed to their cars

To me, this process is very long and taxing, yet people do it every week. If customers can do this, they can bring their own containers.

We work with different organizations and festivals to help people see and understand the ease of shopping zero-waste. Luckily, we have many Europeans living in Korea that know about zero-waste shopping, which helps Koreans get a better sense of the zero-waste concept. We feel this is what makes our company unique; the merging of East and West. As a collective, we hope to expand everyone’s perspectives on zero-waste living.

Photo: Wasteupso Korea

Zero-Waste and Low-Impact living can be viewed from many angles, including our individual efforts to reduce waste from our household output, as well as changes that need to happen more broadly in production and distribution of goods. What are your thoughts on the bigger picture and relationship between individual efforts and those of companies and broader systems?

Kychele: I believe that companies cannot survive without customers. This puts the individual in a powerful position; if we come together and demand change, companies will have no choice.

I also believe that a low-impact lifestyle starts with the individual. We all have different ways of living and with that comes different feelings of comfort. The individual must first determine where their low-impact lifestyle can begin. From there, they can deduce what products can be removed from their life and what can’t. Demands to companies may then follow.

Lastly, I believe that governments are the starting point. Once things become law, consumers, conservers, and companies will have to follow suit. Once government paves the way, the relationship between company and customer will be forced to change. Hopefully, for the better.

As a business providing goods in a Zero-Waste and Low-Impact fashion, you are both helping the individual consumer adapt and also providing a live, functional example of a business operating with Zero-Waste aims.

Photo: Wasteupso

What advice or tips would you have for other businesses who are interested in developing Zero-Waste goals?

Kychele: When working with private companies here in Korea, we have found they feel making the zero-waste change is too difficult. Many have believed that making the change must be in a huge and dynamic area of their business, which is simply not the case. I always advise they do an analysis of their waste. That is the first step to any zero-waste initiative. Once you understand where your waste is coming from, you can then make positive changes to reduce your waste. Many companies don’t realize how much waste comes from their coffee stations. From coffee cups, to sweeteners, to the coffee bean packaging, there is quite a bit of waste that comes from drinking and offering coffee in the office. Making simple changes such as having coffee mugs available for clients instead of paper cups, encouraging employees to bring their own coffee mugs, changing coffee vendors to those who can provide refillable containers of coffee delivered to your office, etc. are simple and easy steps to reduce waste as well as save money in both the short and long term.

Photo: Wasteupso

Kychele’s 5 must-have zero-waste items:

  1. Refillable water bottle
  2. Reusable cotton rounds
  3. Bamboo toothbrush
  4. DIY all-purpose cleaner, toothpaste, mouthwash
  5. Foldable shopping bag
Photo: Wasteupso Korea
Photo: Wasteupso Korea
Photo: Wasteupso Korea

Visit Wasteupso online here

Feature & Interview by Annika Lundkvist at Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk

Podcast V: Biocyclic Vegan Agriculture

Editor’s Note

Welcome! Launched in Summer 2019, Pacific Roots Magazine is a platform devoted to issues of veganic agriculture, sustainability, plant based food & more. We welcome you along for the journey as we explore, learn & develop further awareness about this home we call Earth. 

International Biocyclic Vegan Network