Interview with Julia Lebedeva, Head of Pokupay Pravilno
Why was your initiative started? What was the initial situation?
The sisters Yulia and Asia had been looking at the idea of a zero waste store and decided to start up Pokupai Pravilno (”Buy Right”). At the time (a little over two years ago) there was no zero waste stores in St Petersburg, Buy Right was the first one. The second appeared six months later. And after another six months, three more Zero Waste stores had opened.
The idea of selling food by weight was easy to implement, but it was also necessary to find responsible suppliers that would ship without unnecessary packaging, in a returnable container or with no packaging at all.
What is your vision as a company? What do you want to achieve?
Our minimum goal is zero waste from our family. Our maximum goal is zero waste from your family. We believe the best packaging is no packaging at all.
Our next step is carrying an assortment of goods from local producers in order to minimise the transport footprint and the amount of packaging. Currently, certain goods need to be ordered from other cities in Russia for lack of a local alternative.
We organise educational activities, discuss our ecological practice, separate waste, reduce our family’s waste, support projects that are in tune with our values and continue to update our app on Telegram – a guide to eco-life in St Petersburg.
Furthermore, as sellers of ethically sourced cosmetics, we’re waiting for the implementation of new government regulations allowing the abandonment of animal testing of household chemicals. This will allow us to sell certified ethical cosmetics.
How does your initiative solve the customer’s problem?
When coming home from shopping at a regular store, you unpack the bags and realise there is more garbage than food. Often the more beautiful the packaging, the more expensive the product is, although the product itself may be inferior to its counterpart on the next shelf over. Also, a lot of this packaging is difficult to recycle or not recyclable at all.
When we started sorting our waste three years ago, dividing the packaging that was produced in a month into fractions, we were shocked at how much of it there was. I began to think about how to minimise waste. I started looking at the package labelling in the store to be certain that I could return it later and to buy fruits and vegetables in my own bags. And yes, I ended up with less garbage, but there was still plenty left.
Today, we offer more than 200 products at Buy Right without unnecessary packaging. Our customers can purchase whatever amount is right for them, and the cost is much lower than in their local stores. They’re happy to be purchasing only the product itself, having to take out the trash less often and reducing their ecological footprint.
What makes your offer different from other initiatives in your field?
Our customers are mainly families. We get orders of for example 5 kg of different cereals. But there are also those who want to purchase what they need for the coming week, a little at a time.
In August, we brought orders to 100 people. On average, one person buys ten items. This means that we reduced the total number of packages by 1 000. We are glad and grateful that we can contribute with this.
What has contributed to keeping your initiative successful on the market?
During the pandemic, we closed the physical outlet and switched completely to home delivery. This helped keep the business going.
What are you particularly proud of in terms of your initiative?
That we work to reduce the amount of garbage, as we do not buy nor sell it.
If you were a powerful politician for one day, what would you change first and why?
Give people the choice of buying without packaging, in their own container, by weight. This is something that greatly helps reduce the amount of garbage. Don’t create it at the purchase stage – then there is no need to sort and hand anything over for processing.
How would you like to develop your offer further?
Assuming the authorities heed the requests from consumers about the new trade regulations, adding the possibility of buying goods by weight in the buyer’s own container:
– We want to open a warehouse in the southern part of St Petersburg, in order to reduce the eco-trail of delivery. Currently, delivery is divided by districts and days of the week and the warehouse is located in the northern part of the city.
– We want to expand our team.
– We will continue to look for local suppliers.
Otherwise, we – like all zero waste stores in Russia – will have to close.
What is your key message?
Our offer is …
… circular because we help people not to buy garbage. This means that you do not need to sort it, look for waste management points or recycle anything later on.
… provoking because it is necessary that a customer placing an order for delivery in a reusable container trusts us about the cleanliness of the container and the quality of the products. But you only have to order once to dispel any doubts.
Thanks to the people who support our sustainable shopping experience.
Is there a question that we did not ask you but that we should have asked?
Who is on your team now?
We are a family of three (Peter, Julia and Oliver, and two cats). Currently, we are doing everything ourselves. We thank the founders of Buy Right for the opportunity to continue such a project!