By The Bay State Banner
In a sunny storefront not far from the Boston Harbor, Maria Vasco lingers off to the side of the cash register, smiling but nervous, as she watches one of her first two employees ring up a customer. For over a year, Vasco was the only employee — the founder and CEO — of Uvida, Boston’s first and only zero-waste shop.
The name comes from the Spanish word “vida” meaning “life.” Vasco said she tells customers “you give life” by shopping plastic-free and reducing waste. Uvida offers a variety of home-goods essentials in plastic-free packaging, from deodorant and lip balm in cardboard tubes to tissues and toilet paper made from recycled materials.
“The business is just myself, which in the beginning was great. But it started getting isolated, getting to be too much on my plate. Right now is my first time having employees,” Vasco told Zenger News.
The storefront opened last December during the pandemic, but Vasco launched the business as an online shop in 2019, while still a full-time student at University of Massachusetts-Boston.
“I worked part-time at restaurants and internships just to make ends meet. Then at nighttime, I would stay up until four in the morning doing market research, looking at products, making my website,” Vasco said. “And it was like the best time of my life. I just was having so much fun doing it, that it didn’t matter how much I had on my plate. I always made time for that.”
Vasco started advocating for environmental issues in high school while competing with the debate team. That’s where she first came across the statistic that in 2050 the ocean will have more plastic than fish.
“I never thought the spark I felt was based on the things I was advocating for, I thought it was because I was debating,” Vasco said.
When it came time for college, Vasco, who was born in Cali, Colombia, and moved to East Boston at age 4, chose to attend UMass-Boston for its diversity and affordability. She was undocumented until her junior year of college, making her ineligible for federal financial aid. (Massachusetts allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.) Vasco’s debate coach suggested she pursue a degree in political science.
“By the first semester, I was like ‘no way, I cannot do this.’ It just wasn’t my spark.”
While looking for a class to fulfill a science requirement, Vasco landed on environmental science and quickly fell in love with it. After switching her major, she started talking to her professors outside of class, learning about their specific areas of research and expertise. Through those conversations, Vasco decided she wanted to focus on plastic pollution.
“This is something I can control, because I touch plastic every day,” Vasco remembers.
It was during her freshman year of college that Vasco started trying out plastic-free products. There were some she loved, and some she didn’t, but purchasing any of them required a lot of online research. When she did settle on a product she liked, she would have to remember the website in order to restock. She wanted a curation of products she liked all in one place, and that sparked her idea for Uvida.
“I am my own ideal customer,” Vasco said. “I also need to shop plastic-free. I use all these products myself. So I realized that if I don’t have this store, even in my own city, and I have to be the one that does it, then I will.”
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