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The North End’s Uvida is a zero-waste wonderland

By Dana Gerber, Globe Correspondent, Updated June 27, 2021, 2:59 p.m

For Maria Vasco, the road to opening a North End storefront for her zero-waste shop, Uvida, began with bamboo toothbrushes.

“It is just such a great alternative, but a lot of people just don’t know about it,” said Vasco, 23, a recent graduate of UMass Boston, where she earned her degree in environmental studies and sustainability. “I’m trying to spread awareness on the alternatives that are just very simple, still affordable, still accessible, just not as common in the mainstream.”

Uvida, which Vasco started as an online venture while a senior at UMass Boston, is a one-stop-shop for these vegan, plastic-free, and zero-waste alternatives. Originally a political science major at UMass, Vasco decided to pivot after taking an environmental science class.

When she began looking at her personal impact on the planet, she discovered “all the plastic that I touch every single day,” she said, including deodorant, shampoo, and makeup. “Everything [I use] to just get out the house.”

fter receiving $5,000 in seed money through a UMass’s entrepreneur scholarship and noticing that there wasn’t one place to get all the zero-waste products she needed, Vasco started Uvida as a website in September 2019. In December 2020, she laid down roots on Atlantic Avenue, when the pandemic lowered rent prices. Uvida also has a permanent pop-up in East Boston, in a store owned by Vasco’s mother.

“I really wanted a storefront so I could talk to people about my passion and see people in person and talk about what our impact is. How we can improve it and feel better about ourselves, make a change,” she said.

Uvida joins fellow zero- or low-waste stores in the Boston area, including Cambridge Naturals in Porter Square, Kitchenwitch in Jamaica Plain, and Cleenland in Central Square.

Vasco, originally from Colombia, was drawn to the Spanish word “vida,” which means life, when she was devising the name for her store. “I am helping reduce plastic and the harm that it has to our environment, which comes back to us,” she said.

In addition to the bamboo toothbrushes, which cost $4 each, Uvida carries products for the bathroom, kitchen, self-care, pets, and laundry, with plans to launch a make-up shelf.

Merchandise ranges from shampoo bars to charcoal dental floss, but Vasco’s favorite summer items, she said, are the $8 silicone wine cups, an alternative to the red solo variety. The lush storefront also sells plants galore, with complimentary repotting services.

Business, Vasco said, is booming, and she quit her full-time job at nonprofit Entrepreneurship For All when both gigs became too much to juggle. She and two employees run the shop, which has earned a modest TikTok cachet.

Events will soon crop up in the store, she said, including yoga classes, makeovers by make-up artists, and networking events for female entrepreneurs. “The community is the best part,” Vasco said.