Zero Waste: An Idea Whose Time is Now

2019 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness Christopher Nyerges Columnists January

A Voice in the NELA Wilderness
by Christopher Nyerges

It is sad but true that only a small fraction of discarded materials is recycled, while the rest goes to landfills or incinerators or winds up as immense floating plastic islands in the ocean.

Here are just some of the products you can fill up on at the Sustain L.A. Refill Station. – Photo courtesy of Sustain L.A.

Leslie VanKeuren Campbell, a regular at the Old L.A. Farmers Market in Highland Park, is doing something about it. She is the founder of Sustain L.A., an enterprise that puts zero-waste solutions into action for businesses, events and individuals.

Leslie embraces the definition of “zero waste” that is used by the Zero Waste International Alliance: “Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”

Sustain L.A. grew out of Leslie’s 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, where the reliance on single-use items that are quickly discarded is clearly unsustainable. She worked with her restaurant employer on several improvements, including composting food waste, replacing Styrofoam take-out containers with compostable paper ones and substituting existing cleaning products with ones that are environmentally safer.

BYOB to fill up on soaps, shampoos, cleansers and other products at the Sustain L.A. booth, run by Leslie VanKeuren Campbell, at the Old L.A. Farmers Market in Highland Park. – Photo courtesy of Sustain L.A.

In 2009, she formed Sustain L.A. to do similar work with more restaurants, other businesses and individuals looking for solutions to their garbage. For instance, at organized events large and small, Sustain L.A. provides reusable dishware and non-disposable napkins.

In 2018, Leslie started a “Refill Station” at various famers markets, including the Old L.A. Farmers Market in Highland Park. Customers bring their own containers to the Refill Station, or buy a reusable container, in order to purchase soaps, body lotions and a variety of common household materials. By refilling existing containers, Sustain L.A.’s customers are not adding to local landfills.

“We source products from sustainable companies with transparency in their ingredients, and we source as locally as possible,” Leslie told me recently. “All products are plant and mineral based and cruelty free.” Customers at the Refill Station can also buy materials like baking soda and bentonite clay to make their own products.

“Most people are … excited to find us,” said Leslie. “They tell us that we have filled a need.”

Do her efforts make a difference? The amount of garbage is so huge that one person’s effort alone can’t make a big difference. But the example that Leslie VanKeuren Campbell is setting makes a tremendous difference. You can learn more about Sustain L.A. at

The Old L.A. Farmers Market at Avenue 58 and Figueroa St. is open every Tuesday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. (Closed on Tuesday, Jan. 1.)

Christopher Nyerges is the manager of the Old L.A. Farmers Market in Highland Park.