Uvida. Translation: “U life,” or as Maria Vasco sees it, “you give life.” That’s the message the young student-turned-entrepreneur wants to leave with her customers – that by investing in Zero Waste, you are giving life back to the Earth.
Located in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts, Uvida Shop is the city’s first-ever Zero Waste store – a retail destination that sells products with no single-use plastic packaging. Owner and CEO Maria began this venture while studying environmental science and sustainability at UMass Boston. “I started noticing that I was studying about the plastic pollution problem and then [at home], I had everything packaged in plastic. I just felt like a hypocrite,” said Maria.
Wanting to change that, Maria began the search for Zero Waste alternatives to the single-use plastic products in her life. She did find several quality replacements, from dish soap blocks to bamboo toothbrushes to compostable makeup sticks. But Maria quickly realized there was nowhere in Boston for her to easily buy all these products at once. And so, the concept for Uvida was born.
But what helped make her vision a reality was UMass Boston’s Entrepreneur Scholarship, which Maria won during her junior year – becoming the Scholarship’s first recipient.
With the help of that scholarship, Uvida came to life. The venture started as an online shop selling some of Maria’s favorite Zero Waste items, and it quickly grew from there. Now, you can visit Uvida’s first brick-and-mortar store in the North End – and you won’t be disappointed.
Walking past Uvida, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the storefront’s inviting atmosphere. Near the entrance, succulent gardens and tropical plants stand tall and full of life, filling the doorway with energy. As you step inside, the scents of soap and wood create a peaceful ambience. And the large windows flood the room with light – showcasing all the Zero Waste products with little-to-no packaging (like shampoo and conditioner bars).
While Uvida is first and foremost a Zero Waste shop, Maria is also taking other actions to help people reduce the store’s plastic waste. As she explained, “We have events that we’re attending where we’re not selling products – we’re strictly educating people.”
The idea is for Uvida to be more than just a business – but for it to be a part of the community. That’s why, in late August, Uvida took part in East Boston’s annual Marine and Maritime Festival. Her goal: to engage and educate community members on the harms of single-use plastic packaging and the need for a transition to Zero Waste. In Uvida’s mission to educate others about the health and environmental risks that come with the production, consumption, and disposal of plastic, Maria also recognizes the need to make the Zero Waste movement more accessible and affordable for people, no matter their income.
One of the issues Maria learned about in her studies at UMass is that our trash contributes to climate-damaging emissions – a crisis that impacts all of us. Learning those connections stemmed her passion for this work.
“Climate change affects everyone,” said Maria. “It doesn’t matter what your background is or which tax bracket you’re in. If you have bad air quality and you live in a rich neighborhood, it’s still going to affect your health. It’s still going to affect your child’s lungs and development. Things like plastic contribute to the consequences of climate change. And that’s why I feel really good about going into this career, because I’m [able to] positively impact everyone, not just a certain demographic.”
At 23-years-old, Maria has her own business in the North End, and she opened Boston’s first-ever Zero Waste store (during a global pandemic). And while the road hasn’t been an easy one, the journey has been worth it, with the store and Maria inspiring many. As she noted, “I know it’s been motivating to other women and younger generations.” And in showing them that it’s possible to break these barriers, she hopes “they won’t have to be the first.”
As Uvida celebrates its two-year anniversary this September, Maria is expanding her vision for the business. Recently, she started a volunteer group focused on Zero Waste activism. Not only is the group an inclusive space for anyone interested in Zero Waste, but it’s also a way to bring people together to brainstorm and advocate for the systemic changes, like single-use plastic bans, wide-scale curbside composting, and more, they want to see happen here in Boston. Maria also hopes to open a second Uvida location in East Boston and, eventually, produce her own Zero Waste product.
But even as Uvida grows and evolves, its mission comes back to one simple message: Give life back to the Earth.