By: Julia Campbell
Co-tenant and DECA Heenal Rajani is the co-founder of Reimagine Co, a zero waste demonstration space and community hub in downtown London.
“Our mission,” he says, “is to help Londoners live more sustainable and connected lives through workshops, demonstrations, experiments, and shared learning.”
Having opened in July 2018, it is almost unbelievable how much Reimagine Co has managed to achieve in such a short period of time. In addition to a zero waste store, which sells products that replace single use plastic, and a “refillery,” where people can refill over 30 different products for the bathroom and the kitchen to avoid throwing out packaging every week, Reimagine Co also hosts a plethora of workshops and events centered around zero waste and sustainable living – all completely free of charge.
“Reimagine Co is very much about community,” Heenal explains. “It is a space for community to come together with a focus on the environment and living sustainable lifestyles. We believe that sustainable living solutions come from friends and neighbours supporting one another, and we are creating a space for that to happen.”
Since its inception, Reimagine Co has hosted a variety of zero waste workshops – including their popular “Zero Waste 101,” which has had over 1000 participants to date – free weekly yoga sessions, free bi-weekly meditation groups, a free monthly repair café, and more. No matter what day it is, there is always something going on at Reimagine Co.
Their vision – a world where humans live in peace and harmony with each other and with nature – may seem lofty, but Heenal has the passion and drive to tackle this challenge head on:
“I came to London, Ontario from England very much a blank canvas, knowing that I have all these different skills to bring to the table. I’m not jaded by certain things. People often have attitudes like ‘it’s hard to get things out of the city’ or ‘it’s hard to get funding’ or ‘people are apathetic,’ but I don’t have any of those preconceptions. For me, anything is possible.”
But how did Reimagine Co come to be?
“Reimagine Co came out of my wife and I making a New Year’s resolution to live a package free lifestyle – which is very hard when you have three, soon to be four, kids,” Heenal says. “Getting groceries without any packaging was a huge challenge. My wife was on maternity leave, so she was able to go to different stores and get all our groceries package free, but that is not at all practical or reasonable for people to do. That’s what got us thinking: are there other people trying to do this in London?”
Heenal and his wife soon connected with Jordan and Shannon from Zero Waste Forest City and together planned their first workshop, to which 50 people came.
The next month, they held another workshop, and 50 different people came. “That’s when we thought, okay, it’s not just us interested in this,” Heenal says. “After that, Kara and I went to Montreal and Ottawa, where we saw grocery stores operating completely package free and very successfully. We came back to London thinking that we needed something like that here. From there we quickly became aware of an open space on King Street and were able to obtain funding through the Neighbourhood Decision-Making Program. Over a timeline of two months we went from an idea to an open storefront – everything just came together very quickly.”
What’s next for Reimagine Co?
“We are currently running the initiative ‘Plastic Free London’ in collaboration with the Youth Advisory Council. We want to celebrate and promote businesses that are operating sustainably, and encourage other businesses to make the shift towards zero waste. Right now, we have found over 30 business in London that are operating plastic straw free. We have created a Google map where you can find these 30 restaurants, and will be launching a promotional video soon.”
In addition, Reimagine Co. is partnering with many events in order to promote sustainability – such as Go Wild Grow Wild, Gathering On The Green, and even Sun Fest! – and hopes to continue to partner with more events going forward.
“We are also having a baby in six weeks time!” he says proudly. “Now we are building stability and resilience in the organization and are working hard to bring in more volunteers and paid staff to support us during this busy time.”
In addition to co-founding his own start-up, Heenal has also been a DECA at Innovation Works for two years.
“I am originally from England, and when I arrived in London, I didn’t have a work permit. Innovation Works has been great for me because it gave me a chance to get involved. Volunteering on the front desk for eight hours a week allowed me to help people, meet people, and see how Innovation Works operates behind the scenes. When volunteer opportunities came up, I got first dibs, and when cool events came up, I could always know what was happening. One event in the Solutions Lab helped me meet some new people that led to my first contract - all this, just from being around and speaking to people.”
When asked about his favourite memory of Innovation Works, Heenal laughs and says, “the birthday party – the one with the band in the café? That was a great time. I love all the events.”
If you are interested in living a zero-waste lifestyle, Heenal has four tips to help get you started:
1) Start with one thing at a time. “Don’t try to go zero waste all at once. Go item to item: start with coffee cups, then shopping bags.”
2) Find supports. “Have a buddy! Do it as a group and support each other.”
3) Have grace for yourself. “We are taught that things should be convenient or easy. The change to your lifestyle won’t happen overnight. There will be slip-ups, it will take time, and the world around you is set up to make it hard for you. When the odds are stacked against you, anything you do is meaningful. Zero waste isn’t about zero waste, it’s about doing your best and being intentional.”
4) Have fun!