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Red traffic light

He’s unstable on his feet. I watch him retrieve something from the ground and struggle to straighten up, two metres away from me and existing in another world. 

The traffic light has just turned red, so I must idle. My window is open a crack, and I press the button to close it. He’ll come to my window, of course, and I’ll take no action, just as I’ve been told by those in the know – who’ve visited the shelters. I tighten my core, yet outwardly I’m another bored commuter hidden behind large shades.

The ground is purple with crushed jacaranda blooms, and I worry he could slip. I’ve been mincing my own way through mushed flowers the past few weeks. 

Following rejection at the side of the blue Peugeot in front of me, he approaches my window, and holds up his good hand, cupped. I give my tight smile and head shake, then look ahead. He usually doesn’t persist, but today he lingers. I suck in my lips and don’t respond.  

I watch his progress to the next car in my rearview mirror, relieved and depressed, the banter of the Drive Time team tugging ineffectually at my thoughts. The sun highlights the cavity in the right of his head, and I look at it a while. In a bid at comfort I once conjectured that it was the result of a fight – that his was a violent life. In the end, I felt sunk regardless. 

As he reaches the fifth car, the Peugeot is off in a burst of exhaust, and a moment later the light turns green. African time doesn’t exist on the roads. I’m not in gear yet, and the car behind me hoots – loudly. I climb up and around the corner, eager to reach the highway, eager to think of other things, eager to put the windows down and have the wind dry my face.

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Every Choice Matters: Good Source Brings the Zero-Waste Life to Durban

Low-angled sun pours in through the shop front window of Good Source, but it doesn’t quite reach my ankles where I sit deep in the store at the wood coffee counter with one of the owners, Kim Brennan. We are sipping iced coffees through metal straws, chatting about the store’s zero-waste vision. Good Source is a plastic-free, organic, local produce grocery and coffee shop.

Kim (the brunette in the above photo) says that the owners, a small group of friends, began the store out of a desire to enable people – including themselves – to shop plastic-free. Amazingly, they all have other full-time jobs, making this a “passion job”, in Kim’s words.

The store, which opened its doors in October 2018, has a clean, industrial aesthetic that is softened by natural materials here and there. Industrial-inspired lights hang from the ceiling alongside ones with rattan shades; warehouse-style stands have pale wood shelves; and the black-and-white logo and framed pictures are offset by straw baskets. My favourite touch of all is two branches that have been upcycled by a local crafter into simple and stylish mobiles – each has a dozen strings hanging from it, and each string ends in a series of fat, earth-coloured beads.

Glass jars with name tags line the shelves, each filled with a particular coffee bean, grain, pulse, sugar, oil or vinegar. Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers for decanting, but there are also Mason jars and paper bags available. Loose vegetables sit in baskets, while all the sauces, pickles, spreads and preserved foods come in glass or tin, both of which can be recycled ad infinitum. Fabric items, says Kim, like loofahs, shoppers and straw sleeves are made from linen, hemp or cotton, which are biodegradable.

When I ask Kim to tell me what makes their store different, she says: “Our key thing is to reuse, reuse, and reuse again.” I later realise this is the company’s catchphrase, as I see it printed on the bottle of water I took out of their fridge.

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One better than recycling

Kim, according to fellow store owner Nicole Benders (middle blonde), who joins us at the coffee counter, is a “purist” – someone not satisfied with just recycling, but wanting to step out of the waste chain altogether. Kim, a wife and mother of three, aims to live a zero-waste life, and is excited that with Good Source it is finally becoming possible.

The company only buys from suppliers committed to the same vision, which is how the store got its name: Good Source. It has been a struggle at times, the ladies tell me, to find locally based suppliers committed to zero-waste practices, but Kim is encouraged to see suppliers becoming more and more aware of their waste and making changes so that they can partner with Good Source. Suppliers of grains, coffees and sugars use cotton zip bags that the store can return to them, and other suppliers use buckets that can also be washed and returned to them for continued use.

Every little choice matters

When I ask Kim for advice on plastic-free living for the newbie, she advises focusing on the things you use the most, which are generally bathroom products like shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and toothpaste. Good Source sells shampoo, soap and conditioner bars, and toothpaste that can be decanted. Bawthroom plastics are among the worst, according to Kim, because not only do most come in single-use plastic containers, they also contain microplastics that get washed down the drain. Microplastics, which are plastics shorter than five millimetres, are a serious environmental hazard.

Another bathroom ‘nasty’ is disposable razors. Lindani Shozi, the barista behind our refreshing coffees, has eco-consumerism in his blood; he tells me he uses the steel razor passed on to him by his grandfather. This means only the razor blades ever need replacing. As the slogan emblazoned on the shop window states: “Every choice matters”.

One of the joys of working at Good Source, according to Nicole, is seeing the light come on in customers’ eyes as they learn about eco-consumerism and the changes they can make to their habits. The store’s owners regularly see newcomers try out a toothpaste, then return a month later with their shopping bags, wanting to switch to more plastic-free options. They also often buy gifts to convert their families and friends. The step-by-step progress that the Good Source staff see individuals making en- courages them in their mission.

A shop for everyone

The biggest challenge to people going waste- free, say Nicole and Kim, is lack of availability. They are apparently the only ones in the area doing this. They have customers who travel a great distance to shop with them. “People drive for over an hour and do a fortnightly shop here, because they believe in the cause,” says Kim. An hour’s drive for groceries is staggering – Durbanites are known for avoiding long drives, and I have never heard of anyone doing such a thing before. Many people clearly want to shop responsibly. There is a very real groundswell in eco-consumerism taking place in South Africa.

While I am not surprised to see a barefoot young girl in a long white dress come in to buy kombucha, Kim tells me that their target audience is very definitively “everyone”. Good Source is not a health store, stocking red meat (hormone-free, of course), cheeses, sugars and chocolate. The primary focus of the store is to enable people to shop plastic-free, so they want everyone to be able to buy what they need.

I also like Kim’s advice to “cut down on convenience”. It a is wonderfully countercultural statement. She gives the example of chopped butternut, which is sprayed and then put in a plastic bag. Kim says it is better to buy a whole butternut, and I have to agree – when did we become so averse to chopping vegetables? Slow cooking is not only good for our hearts and minds, but also for the planet.

Future plans

The Good Source team is also enthusiastic about running workshops to help empower people, from cooking demos to tutorials on how to go waste-free. In the future they hope to expand to other parts of Durban as well as South Africa to allow more and more people to choose waste-free shopping and lifestyles.

The more Kim and I talk, the more I realise the extent of my own plastic waste, and am inspired to start down the road towards more thoughtful and earth-friendly purchasing habits. I walk out of Good Source into the pale evening with a newly bought charcoal water purifier stick, ruing the plastic water filter I recently bought. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. How very true.

Website: http://www.goodsource.co.za

Instagram: @goodsourcesa

Images in the post are courtesy of Good Source SA.

Please note that this isn’t a sponsored post – I approached Good Source after hearing about them and thinking they would make for an interesting article. Thank you to Kim and the rest of the team for being so friendly and helpful!