Kristina Cernakevica – The co-owner of the first zero waste grocery shop in Cyprus #S08
We are delighted to share this interview with Kristina Cernakevica the co-founder of the first zero-waste grocery shop in Cyprus ∙ the agnό zero waste grocery based in Limassol. In this interview, Kristina shares the inspiration behind the creation and concept of their shop and the challenges of her mission to fight food waste/consumption.
Kristina what inspired you to start the agnό zero waste grocery?
When me and Dimitrios (co-owner of agnό zero waste grocery) moved to Cyprus in 2019, we were aware that refill and zero waste shops on the island are non-existent. We’d run around the city with our own containers and reusable veg bags from one shop to another in an attempt to do groceries more sustainably, ending up wasting more petrol and time. We wanted to do our weekly shopping in just one place. From this need and our desire to make it easier for others to live more sustainably, the idea of αgnό zero-waste grocery was born.
Can you share with us the meaning behind the brand name given to your zero-waste grocery shop?
Agno means pure in Greek. Because αgnό’s priority is to provide our community with a sustainable option for day-to-day shopping and reduce the volume of household waste and disposable plastic going to landfill, this name seemed to match what we were trying to achieve – a pure and plastic-free Cyprus.
Can you describe a day of running agnό zero-waste grocery?
We’d usually come in 40 minutes before opening to clean, refill and prepare for the day. Then, I’d do a task list that would be completed the same day, normally working on the Finance balance, social media, communicating with suppliers, and dealing with any issues that need attention. Generally, running the shop on all levels.
Did you face any difficulties in finding suppliers accepting the concept of your shop and working with you?
Being the first and so far the only zero waste shop in Cyprus is difficult for suppliers & producers to fully comprehend our process as they have never experienced customers buying plastic-free stock. Unfortunately, some aren’t willing to change some of their processes to accommodate us and this creates an issue; when you don’t have options, things get more difficult and is always difficult to compromise on our ideas.
The most challenging of all, is to source Organic products from local suppliers. Due to the high demand in the Organic market in the last decade, a few companies in Cyprus have invested in growing markets on the island and want to keep supply and consequently, demand and pricing are mostly controlled by them, they are not willing to cooperate with us. This either being because they don’t necessarily like the upcoming competition or another likely scenario is they don’t want to bother with start-up companies that don’t place big orders. The same goes for fresh local produce. Farmers, that specialize in organic agriculture, could be counted on the fingers of one hand, so the demand is high, and so are the prices.
However, we have a great collaboration with big suppliers in Cyprus for nuts, dried fruit, and staples that never heard of this concept before and are willing to understand and accommodate us! Of course, there is always room for improvement, but we are hopeful because we’ve built trust between both parties and have good communication. This aspect of collaboration is a lot more important than sourcing the best product in the market but having to deal with a very unstable personality and attitude that ruins your days.
Since opening how have consumers in Limassol responded to this packaging-free shopping?
The response has been great in the beginning, with a lot of hype created for such an initiative but of course nowhere near our ideal target. Our loyal clients are normally people that have already experienced previously the culture of shopping from bulk stores. Our customers at the beginning were predominantly Russians, English, Germans, Americans, Canadians and other nationalities that live in Limassol & the surrounding areas. We have customers that visit us from Pissouri, Paphos, and Nicosia and we couldn’t be more grateful! Obviously, we also have loyal Cypriot customers, that have lived abroad and are into environmental activities.
I would mention here also that Cypriots are not negative to this, we just see that there is a specific resistance to it due to the habit that was built throughout the years. The convenience of the supermarket, the available parking space is important to them. But this is what we knew we had to do, advocate our cause and explain why doing these small steps are important for the future of our planet. Also, we figured that some people just felt uncomfortable with the process and maybe scared them away – like the fact that you need to fill in a container, you may spill.*
*Happened to us but Kristina made us feel that it was no big deal😛
What is something you wish people in Cyprus knew more about when it comes to plastic package shopping and food waste and their effect on the environment?
The core of the problem – how we see it – is that generally, people don’t question anything. The convenience, the mass consumerism and mass production made us numb to seeing things clearly. The way that plastic invaded our lives, yes it gave us a lot of flexibility in shipping things, packing things in a lot cheaper way that we saw it as the new norm.
So we wish that people would stop and think a few aspects before buying something: “where did this come from?” “is the person that made or grew what you hold and eat paid sufficiently and being treated with respect?”. Generally, there is no absolute zero-waste person living in the modern world, however, is important to be mindful when buying or doing anything else that may have an effect on the environment surrounding us or other people.
To be more specific on plastic now, we wish that people would know more about plastics. Almost always, plastic comes from freshly exported petroleum that is obviously not renewable. To know that, a plastic bag that is only being used for 12 minutes on average and then thrown away, takes up to 400 years to decompose and that even then this bag would leave microplastics in nature to deal with.
But, we need to be more patient as these facts are not known by the majority and this is our biggest challenge, to share our experience and knowledge to make people understand that you can be sustainable and at the same time enjoy the same stuff, pay less money and waste less food in the process.
What do you believe society has to gain from package-free shopping?
These are very tricky and nice questions to answer in short, but I will try! 🙂
Following my previous answer, our society only has to gain if people started eliminating single-use plastics from their lives. To name the obvious, our streets would be cleaner, their daily waste would be minimized so less effort taking out trash bags, saving money whilst only buying what they actually need and consequently saving food from being thrown away. Food waste levels in Cyprus are through the roofs and we don’t have the luxury of wasting so much food and consequently resources. Food waste doesn’t necessarily mean that other people starve while you throw food away. It means you waste the energy put into the products you throw away and with it, the carbon footprint is being generated for nothing.
I think that zero-waste shops can help raise awareness about the plastic pollution and about the environmental problems in general. I really do think that we can make the difference through the products we retail and through the open conversion we are having as well.
You mentioned in one of your Facebook posts that you are still learning ways that can help you reduce your day-to-day waste and that you are nowhere near being the perfect zero waster. Based on this what do you advise consumers to think who may feel the guilt of not doing enough?
I think all of us have experienced guilt for not doing enough or doing it wrong. And this can be very paralyzing, like if it’s not perfect, why bother? One thing I know for sure is that no one is doing all things perfectly all of the time. Sometimes we mess up, sometimes we forget and it’s ok because we are humans! I think the most important thing is to acknowledge things that you’re already doing and focus on what can be improved. In my opinion, one small step in the right direction is better than no steps at all.
What practical small steps do you advise consumers to take to embrace the habit of package-free shopping?
Come prepared! Before visiting our shop, or any other bulk stores make a shopping list, bring a few empty jars and bottles for cleaning products (if you don’t have any you can take them from us for free) and if you’re unsure of something don’t be shy to ask! Also, if you have no containers, we offer free kraft paper bags that are home-compostable and recyclable, customers shouldn’t feel if they don’t have jars they can’t shop! Because it’s better to get paper bags, reuse them and recycle them instead of buying more plastic in the end!
Can you name five package-free products you recommend our readers buy at the store?
All of our products are great and it’s difficult to pick 5 😊 My personal favorite products from our refill station are vegan sweets, organic spaghetti, and granola, and from other products: natural shampoo bars and a reusable menstrual cup.
We really want to know, are you thinking of opening agnό in Nicosia?
Yes, it’s in our plan to expand in the future and provide a plastic-free grocery experience in other cities. We’ve had a surprisingly big number of customers that asked from us a shop in the capital, which is obviously charming and hopeful!
What is a quote / mantra you live by?
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