The Exist Green building, located in Omaha.
Exist Green is completely powered by solar energy and purchases fresh, seasonal produce from local farms. Photo by Jenna Gruber/NNS

Exist Green is Omaha’s first zero-waste refill shop and a full-service grocer that aims to help their customers make more sustainable decisions when shopping for their groceries.

Refill stores are grocers that allow customers to bring their own containers to fill up with their products. This helps to cut the need for plastic packaging and decreases the amount of trash accumulated when customers buy products, especially produce, in bulk.

Exist Green is 100% solar powered and aims to provide fresh and eco-conscious essentials, which are important to the community, said Manager Mary Range. 

Exist Green is stocked with products ranging from dish and laundry detergents to toilet paper and toothbrushes. Accompanying the groceries is an eco-boutique of up-cycled and sustainably made and acquired clothes and home accessories. 

“Everything is going to crap,” Range said. “There’s so many choices you can make and it can get overwhelming. We try to make those hard decisions because there’s so much greenwashing, and do our research so customers can come in and trust us.”

Greenwashing is the act of making false or misleading statements about the environmental benefits of a product or practice, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Range described how the store has made well-intentioned purchases of eco-friendly products, only to find out the products come in plastic shrink-wrap.

Exist Green owner Leigh Neary works hard to make sure the store’s products don’t include microplastics, Range said. The store once sold dryer sheets that contained microplastics, but swiftly changed to a type that’s better for the environment.

Exist Green In Text Image 1024x768 - Zero-waste grocery store is Omaha’s first eco-grocery store
Exist Green in Omaha includes an eco-boutique of sustainably made and sourced clothes, located behind the refill stations. Photo by Jenna Gruber/NNS.

Range said Nebraskans can start being more sustainable by taking small steps. 

“You don’t have to change your life in a day,” she said. “Making little steps to change make a difference. Like looking at your trash and seeing what you threw out can be a first step.”

Range also said it’s hard to be sustainable, especially in Nebraska, but through stores like Exist Green, it can become easier for communities to be able to minimize their waste. Refill shops are starting to gain popularity, but Nebraska has been late to the party. While some grocery stores have certain products you can refill, no mainstream stores are completely eco-friendly. 

“I hope to see more stores like Exist Green pop up across Nebraska,” said Miqaela Davis, a  junior environmental studies major at UNL and a member of Sustain UNL. “Especially in cities where college students have more independence to shop for themselves.” 

Davis said she’s trying hard to be as eco-friendly as possible. 

“I avoid purchasing things with plastic wrapping or other non-sustainable products,” she said. “However, it’s hard to do in Nebraska, especially as a college student.” 

Davis is passionate about sustainability practices in every facet of her life. From her community to her own habits, Davis promotes and advocates for ways to keep your life and community sustainable and is an avid proponent of eco-bricking.

Eco-bricking is when plastic waste is put into a plastic bottle until it is full. This is a way for Davis to monitor the amount of non biodegradable trash she accumulated. Once she fills a bottle, she sends it off to a company that then redistributes them in eco-friendly ways, such as using them as insulation in homes.

Another UNL student, freshman Natalie Bourne, agreed with Davis that stores like Exist Green help her become are more invested in being eco-conscious when shopping. 

“Being able to shop for items you know are not adding significant harm to your environment makes it 10 times more rewarding,” Bourne said. “Being raised in Omaha, I am happy that there is opportunity for stores like Exist Green to help other people be more eco-conscious.”

My name is Jenna Gruber. I am an Advertising/Public Relations and Journalism double major with minors in music and English. I am currently a senior in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.