Stuart Teen’s Zero-Waste Lifestyle Inspires Her To Open Eco-Friendly Store In Lieu Of College
“Paper towels are white trash,” proclaims a sign fixed to the checkout counter at JAR The Zero Waste Shop, an innovative yet unassuming new store in Stuart.
Behind the counter stands teen Brandi Kneip, whose welcoming smile and easygoing disposition greet you as you embark upon a shopping experience unlike any you’ve had before.
But, working the counter is no summer job for Kneip—she’s the owner, founder and operator of JAR, the third zero-waste store in America. Equally impressive? She earned that title before graduating high school.
Instead of heading off to college or pursuing a traditional career route, Kneip opted to follow in her family’s footsteps—she’s now a fourth-generation local entrepreneur—and become a business owner, using her college fund to open JAR in March, two months before graduating from South Fork High School.
The store provides groceries, products and other resources that encourage an earth-friendly way of life, focused on reducing overall product use in order to better care for the planet and its resources.
“Zero waste is the idea of reducing the amount of plastics, packaging and one-time-use items [that go] to the landfill,” Kneip explains.
After going waste-free in high school, she saw that eco-conscious endeavors aren’t impossible—it’s just difficult to do them without the right resources. Despite Kneip’s pure intentions, some products simply weren’t available without packaging or some sort of waste.
One fateful dinner party laid the foundation for inspiration to strike. “I was in my kitchen, I was cooking and I was really frustrated because I wanted to cook a meal for a party that I was having, and all the ingredients were zero-waste except one,” Kneip says.
“Before the people got there, I dumped all of the [disposable] bag into a jar, and then when I was cooking in front of all of them, I was like, ‘This is so wrong. I tried to hide from you guys that I used plastic.’” Following her guests’ departure that evening, she knew what she wanted to do: open a store where conscious consumers could purchase ingredients with no packaging or products that harm the environment.
Kneip’s love of nature also imbues her environmental venture. “I’ve always been the kid to go out and lay in the grass, pick flowers… and I’m a Virgo,” she laughs, “So, if we want to get into the astronomical signs, I’m an earth sign. It came naturally.”
Predictions about Earth’s impending climate crisis also fuel her fire. “By 2050, studies show that we’re going to have more plastic in the ocean than fish. That’s something that’s close to my heart because we live on the water and I grew up on the water. When I found that out, I actually teared up.”
Whether you’re out to save the planet or just want to shop bulk ingredients at great prices, head to JAR. You’ll need to, yes, bring your own jars, or purchase one at the shop, and then fill them with ingredients like coffee, salt, olive oil, quinoa, oatmeal, dried fruit, granola, honey, nuts and even Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap.
Kneip recommends a scoop of chocolate-covered coconut as well. “That’s our number one [best seller].” Grocery shopping completed, you’ll also find earthy home products like soap nuts—a tree berry that acts as a natural laundry detergent—beeswax wrap (to replace cling wrap), cloth “Ziploc” bags, Lunette feminine cups and thrifted clothes.
Spend a few minutes with Kneip and you may also be convinced to replace wasteful products you use every day with eco-friendly alternatives. Kneip points out the popularity of plastic toothbrushes (over bamboo toothbrushes) as just one example of modern mass-production trumping smart stewardship. “You use one every three months, or whatever your dentist recommends, and then it just goes in the landfill,” Kneip says. “And it’ll stay here for 500 years.”
Her brow furrows as she laments, “There was a whole documentary on a girl who found her toothbrush 20 years later in California, with her name engraved on it. Plastics can’t be recycled endlessly. [They] break down after the second to third time. And they have tons of chemicals. So there’s nothing good about them—there’s nothing good for you, there’s nothing good for the earth. It’s not sustainable.”
Fortunately, Kneip has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who are interested in adopting her mission, or who already focus on reducing their footprint and were just waiting for a store like JAR to open.
“I opened up a community of people that I did not know existed. And now there’s a shop where they can connect. We even have a Facebook page [of] JAR’s loyal customers that people talk on, and they socialize and they ask each other questions.”
The store’s positive reception is perhaps due in part to the fact that Kneip proclaims JAR a judgment-free zone. “We don’t care what level you’re at. You could be just cutting out straws or completely zero-waste. Everything helps.”
With loyal customers regularly making the trek from as far south as Miami and West Palm Beach—she’s even had a customer from Key West—Kneip hopes to open more stores and expand JAR's reach across South Florida, putting the zero-waste lifestyle within reach for more and more people.
She also hopes to see the concept catch on, with more stores like hers opening across America. “I want this to become the norm, even if it causes competition for me. This is something I’m really passionate about.”
Whether a person makes a few simple changes to cut out excess waste or opts to live radically waste-free, Kneip cheers them on. “You don’t have to be a zero-waster to help the earth. Just anything you do to reduce your footprint helps. We have a really big problem [and] any little thing you do helps.”
3876 SE Dixie Highway, Stuart; 772.485.7459; jarzerowaste.com
Photos taken by Skye Sherman