When you spend $100 at a local business, $68 will stay in the community—in other words, shopping local benefits you, your neighbors, and the entrepreneurs in your town. Here on the McKinley Living Blog, we try and shine a light on local businesses near our apartment communities in Ann ArborYpsilantiOrlando, and Tampa Bay. Why? Because we want our residents to get the most out of where they live, and we want our neighborhoods to thrive. That’s why we are interviewing local business owners to learn what motivates them, why they love their city, and how our residents can follow all the cool things they do. 

So, shop local, do it often, and tell your friends to do the same. Now let’s get to our interview with Emma Hess, Founder and Owner of BYOC Co. A new refill station and zero-waste shop in Ann Arbor. 

Small Business Profile: BYOC Co. in Ann Arbor 

McKinley Living: Can you please tell us how you started BYOC Co. and your journey to opening a brick-and-mortar shop in downtown Ann Arbor?

Emma: When I was a senior at the University of Michigan, I became more and more interested in the idea of zero waste living. Rather than jump in head first, I started making small changes here and there while still attending school. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I moved into my brother’s house, and he gave me free rein on making sustainable swaps throughout the house. As I gradually made more changes, I found no refill stations for household cleaning and personal care products or any place within a 60-mile radius of Ann Arbor that offered a plastic-free shopping experience for those kinds of products. I graduated in May of 2020 and decided to pursue the idea of BYOC Co. on June 1st.

byoc co in ann arbor

We’ve been running pop-ups since August of 2020. This really helped me build a customer base, develop relationships with fellow business owners, and not have a retail space’s high overhead costs. By January, I had begun to seriously consider the idea of a brick-and-mortar location because we were constantly getting requests for more products, and I wanted to reach a bigger audience, thus making a bigger impact in the community. Liberty Street’s space allowed us more than enough room for our refills and allowed for recycling collection boxes for hard-to-recycle items and space for low waste workshops.

Ann Arbor is the place to be 

McKinley Living: Are you from Ann Arbor? What is it about our city that inspires you to start a business here?

Emma: I grew up in Chelsea, so just a quick 20-minute drive from Ann Arbor, but I spent the last four years living in Ann Arbor while attending the University. Ann Arbor is an incredibly unique city, where concepts such as mine are embraced. There was really no better place to put down roots than the city that helped me pay closer attention to the environmental and environmental justice movements.

McKinely Living: One of our blog goals is to illuminate hidden gems and cool things for our McKinley residents to do in the areas in which they live. Whether it be a place to eat or a park, where’s your favorite location in Ann Arbor?

Emma: Whether you’re looking to do a DIY project or furnish your home on a budget, the Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley’s ReStore is one of my favorite places to shop secondhand when it comes to the home. When you purchase from them, you’re directly contributing to their work providing affordable homeownership opportunities for families and individuals in Washtenaw County. I’ll be doing a lot more shopping there in the coming weeks to prepare for our shop opening!

A Plastic Pollution-Free Future

McKinley Living: Plastic pollution was getting a lot of attention before the pandemic, but it has only accelerated despite it waning from the media. How do you encourage people to care about reducing waste when they are concerned about so many other things?

Emma: Plastic plays a pivotal role in most of our lives. It’s unavoidable and, for many reasons, very necessary. Unfortunately, only about 9% of the world’s plastic has been recycled since recycling plastic began. That means 91% of the plastic we’ve consumed as individuals still exists on this planet. Events like the Arctic cold front in Texas that occurred in February will happen again, and they will happen more often if we do not attempt to reduce the waste we create as individuals and, most importantly, as corporations. What matters is doing what you have the means to do in this movement, whether that’s saying “no, thank you” to a straw in the drive-through or doing advocacy work.

zero waste store in ann arbor

McKinley Living: There are many zero-waste influencers out there, yet the idea of creating no waste remains intimidating. What’s your advice for someone just starting on a path to less waste?

Emma: If you’re looking to reduce your waste, it’s important to know what type of waste you’re producing currently. I’ve seen folks do trash audits where they look through their trash at the end of the week and see what they are throwing away the most. For me, that was paper towels and food waste. I cut up a bunch of old shirts from high school and college and turned them into our paperless towels. I also started a compost bin to turn food scraps back into fertile soil. My biggest advice is to go slow. The word sustainable doesn’t only mean sustainable for the environment; it also has to mean sustainable for your lifestyle. Sustaining eco-friendly habits can be best achieved by going swap by swap. Use up what you have first before going out to buy the eco-friendly version.

How you can use less plastic in your apartment 

McKinley Living: What are some accessible and simple things apartment renters can do to reduce waste?

Emma: I live in an apartment, too! It can be hard at first but definitely doable. I have a bowl I keep in the freezer to collect our food scraps, then I take those to my parents’ compost bin about once a month. You can find a local host to compost your scraps using the ShareWaste app. Further, I’m a huge advocate for bar soap. We use solid dish soap in the kitchen, bar soap in the bathroom, and shampoo and conditioner bars in the shower. It takes up a lot less space, lasts much longer than liquid alternatives, and doesn’t require any packaging when bought or used. Before tossing an item in the trash, you can join your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook to help find your things a second home. This way, you aren’t always resorting to the landfill when an item doesn’t serve you a purpose anymore.

McKinley Living: Finally, how can our readers stay in touch with all the cool happenings at BYOC Co.?

Emma: You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram. I highly encourage folks to check those platforms to see what products we’ll be carrying in the shop. We also have a website with all our product information, pop-up schedule, and contact information.

Please visit our McKinley Living Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti archive for more local businesses to support.