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One bag at a time: ‘Zero waste shopper’ part of cooperative of thousands in 40 years at Central Co-op

Savannah Ledgerwood is a poster shopper, of sorts, for low waste commerce at Central Co-op (Image: Nick Turner for CHS)

Most people bring a reusable tote bag to carry their groceries home. Savannah Ledgerwood, however, takes it a little bit further. She comes prepared with a selection of bags and glass jars of varying sizes. She uses them to buy food, produce, and ingredients—mostly in bulk—and avoid plastic and other single-use packaging materials. Ledgerwood does this to reduce her impact on the environment, and her methods follow the tenets of something called a “zero waste” or “low impact” lifestyle. Though she’s a relatively new customer, Ledgerwood is the kind of shopper Central Co-op was born to serve — 40 years ago this month.

“I try my best to eliminate plastic from my day to day life, especially from my shopping routine, as much as possible,” Ledgerwood said. “It’s just a really small step towards creating a bigger environmental impact.”

40 years at Central Co-op: People? Yes. Self-checkout? Probably not.

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For the last six months, Ledgerwood has been shopping mostly at Central Co-op, the E Madison cooperative grocery store where they sell herbs, teas, spices, oils, grains, beans and more in bulk, allowing shoppers to bring their own containers and buy the exact amount they need.

“I look back at the times when I didn’t know about how harmful plastic was, and it was this time of blissful ignorance. I would use whatever I wanted and buy whatever was convenient,” Ledgerwood said. “It’s that fine balance of committing to a few key changes and really nailing that down, making a routine for yourself, making it accessible and attainable for you and then building upon that to continue to get creative and challenge yourself… slowly integrating bits and pieces, and really celebrating your wins early on has made it sustainable for me.”

In college, Ledgerwood did the small things, like bring a bag to the grocery store and using a reusable water bottle. It wasn’t until more recently, and after doing some research on her, that Ledgerwood took it to the next level.

“I did some research on animal agriculture and its effect on climate change, on plastic and I learned that every toothbrush that I’ve ever used since I was a baby is still on this earth. Whether its in the ocean or in a landfill, it will outlive me. Every bit of plastic that’s ever been produced is still in existence and will be for at least hundreds of years,” she said. “After seeing that, I was like, okay, maybe it’s a little bit more convenient for most people, but it was the cost of the convenience that really stuck with me.”

And so, Ledgerwood abandoned convenience and took it upon herself to reduce her waste and consumption for the sake of living things and their well-being. Not all grocery stores allow her to do this, but she frequently goes to Central Co-op, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary Tuesday with a party for its around 14,000 members.

The co-op opened its doors on October 16th, 1978 as a buying club with a small membership of about 100 people.

This 40-year October milestone comes as Capitol Hill’s coveted grocery store economy is about to grow with a major new investment. The new Broadway Whole Foods is set to open later this month, bringing a 40,000 square-foot store and a “80-seat dining and beverage venue” to the edge where First Hill meets Capitol Hill.

“We look forward,” said Garland McQueen, cooperative executive officer of Central Co-op. “We know what we’ve done so far. We’re going to see what else we can do and what else we can offer in the future. We have competition coming in but we were first and we’ve been here 40 years. And we plan on staying.”

2019 will be a big year for the co-op. Renovations at the Capitol Hill location will begin early in the year and their second location in Tacoma should be open for business around the same time, McQueen said. The new Tacoma location will be slightly bigger and have more floor space and a community room for teaching and cooking classes as well as a larger deli, produce area, and parking lot.

“Our co-op really reflects the values of our community. We are governed by our members in a way that reflects the things that are important to them. That shows up in our higher wage. That shows up in our competitive benefits package. That shows up in our support for Washington producers. We don’t have high fructose corn syrup in the store. We don’t have artificial colors. We don’t have artificial flavors,” said marketing director Susanna Schultz. “We’re doing business in a way that reflects the values of our community.”

Central Co-op is located at 1600 E Madison. You can learn more at

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