Jason Rusnock and Emily Rodia

Jason Rusnock and Emily Rodia in Good Buy Supply, their store on East Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia. Rodia, a Hamilton West grad, says Good Buy Supply is the first shop in Philly dedicated to the zero-waste movement.

Around five years ago, Emily Rodia and her fiance, Jason Rusnock started their journey toward a low-waste lifestyle. Living with roommates, they noticed how much trash their household in South Philly was putting out each week, and it bothered them.

What also bothered them was the litter around Philadelphia, scattered on the ground and blowing in the wind, particularly the plastic bags that seemed to be everywhere, including in their own cupboards at home.

They began to bring their own tote bags to stores, stopped buying plastic water bottles, and questioned the necessity of all of their purchases thus forth, “living a little more minimalist,” as Emily says.

Quickly, their interest in producing less waste spiraled from a conscious effort into a new way of life when they discovered the zero-waste movement, and they began to dream of a retail shop to provide plastic-free alternatives for their neighbors.

In November of 2020, this dream came true for the couple when they opened Good Buy Supply on East Passyunk Avenue, on a street lined with independent businesses, many of them women-owned.

Since then, Emily and Jason have been running their store full-time in the hopes of reducing the amount of single-use plastics and other nonbiodegradable materials in their area and educating customers about the importance of producing less waste.

Rodia, who is from Hamilton, attended University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she studied painting, and where she met Jason, who studied photography and who also grew up in New Jersey, in Fredon.

The couple fell in love with the city, and have essentially never left. “It has been our home,” says Jason. They particularly love the combination of cultures, and the emphasis Philly places on independent business.

Right before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, Emily and Jason were looking at spaces to house their store. Emily was still working at Art in the Age, a tasting room and home bar supply store on North 3rd Street, and Jason was still working as a photographer. They were about to sign a lease when lockdown began, and their plans were put on hold.

The store, though, was always on their minds, and they eventually found a space just a few blocks from their home. In October 2020, Rodia and Rusnock signed the lease for their store, and Good Buy Supply, the Philadelphia area’s first shop dedicated to the zero-waste movement, officially opened on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28.

Rusnock says part of their motivation to open the store was to provide for the immediate neighborhood; he and Rodia had not found a location that sold basic low-waste necessities all in one place, so they decided to create their own.

Good Buy Supply sells a variety of products for the home, garden, kitchen, and bathroom. “We provide plastic-free alternatives to things you use on a daily basis,” Rodia says.

Reusable cloth bags, beeswax food wraps, bamboo toothbrushes, toothpaste tablets, rose water facial toner, wool dryer balls, goat milk soap, tallow candles, recycled notebooks, copper pot scrubbers and a plethora of other goods line their shelves, and they are also one of the only places in the city to feature a brick and mortar refill system, in which patrons can bring their own containers or purchase them at the shop to fill with hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner and more.

Many of the items the shop sells are from local businesses that don’t yet have their own locations. Patrons can also shop online at goodbuysupply.co.

Good Buy Supply has also partnered with Bottle Underground, a nonprofit organization from the founders of Remark Glass, a women-owned business “focused on innovative and creative glass reuse,” according to its website. The store is a drop-off point for clean glass bottles and jars that Bottle Underground will keep from the landfill and circulate back into the community.

Bottle Underground has recycled and recirculated 1.6 tons of glass through Good Buy Supply alone, “and that’s just a small fraction of what they’re taking in,” says Emily.

She and Rusnock are currently on the lookout for more companies interested in partnering with their store in the hopes of further curbing waste in the Philadelphia area.

Rodia prefers the term “low-waste” to “zero-waste” since no one is perfect. She shares advice for people just beginning their own low-waste journeys. “You can’t focus on everything at once,” she says.

She advises customers to take their time adjusting to the lifestyle. Find one item in your life, she says — such as a plastic toothbrush or dryer sheets — and take the process one step at a time, in a way that suits your lifestyle. “Don’t get yourself overwhelmed,” she says.

Rodia says we are seeing the effects of climate change now, and that it is something that should be on everyone’s mind. “The small changes you’re making personally might not seem like they’re making a difference right away, but these small changes will ultimately affect us as a whole,” she says. Larger corporations with a big impact, she says, will take notice of eco-friendly practices and enact them.

Rusnock agrees with Rodia’s advice for beginners. “We don’t advise people to jump into a different lifestyle,” he says; this can feel too out-of-reach. He suggests not changing too many habits at once, but rather “taking one thing at a time. You’ll be more comfortable making the change you want to see.”

He and Rodia wanted to ensure that Good Buy Supply provided “pretty simple solutions that people can do on their own,” like replacing a plastic shampoo bottle with one of their zero-waste shampoo bars. In fact, Rusnock recommends starting in the bathroom and personal care department for those just beginning to switch to a low-waste lifestyle.

“It’s one of the places you can switch things over to be completely plastic free in a short amount of time,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to get used to.”

In addition to solid shampoo bars, Good Buy Supply sells safety razors, biodegradable silk dental floss, solid conditioner bars, reusable facial rounds, biodegradable toilet tissue, and more. “Once you change your routine, you’ll realize you’re not throwing anything out,” he says.

Rodia and Rusnock hope their store reaches a wider audience than their neighborhood in Philadelphia. Rusnock says he draws some of his inspiration from his hometown of Fredon, an extremely rural part of the state where farming and agriculture play an integral role. Conservation of nature, he says, and “appreciating the earth in general have always been inspiring to me.”

In Rodia’s hometown, too, residents value open space. Over 21 percent of Hamilton Township has been permanently preserved as such. She points to her time as a Girl Scout in Hamilton as part of her early eco-friendly inspiration. “I had a lot of fun as a kid,” she says. “Hamilton was great. My parents always got us involved in a lot of different things,” she says.

She attended Robinson Elementary School, Grice Middle School, and Hamilton High School West, from where she graduated in 2007. Her mother, Debbie, worked for Johnson and Johnson for many years and was her Girl Scout leader, and her father, Lou, worked a variety of factory jobs. She also has a brother, Michael.

Rodia and Rusnock hope people visit their store and support a small business; what they would like even more, though, is to spread the word about the importance of low-waste living and to demonstrate that it does not need to be an impossible endeavor. Anyone can take the first step today by switching out a plastic toothbrush, or bringing their own bags to the grocery store.

“Starting small is the best way to do it,” Rodia says.

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