By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Ade Villatoro is ready to revolutionize the way Rockford thinks about shopping.
She wants consumers to ditch the mindset that keeps them heading to box retail stores to purchase large plastic containers filled with shampoo, detergent and other supplies.
At her new downtown store, Earth: A Zero Waste Company, you can find environmentally friendly products that can be refilled without the one-time use plastic or other wasteful byproducts common in food, beauty and cleaning products.
“Everything in here is eco-friendly. The cleaning products are plant friendly. The liquid detergent is plant friendly. The lotions are vegan,” she said. “Everything that’s in here has come from the earth to gently go back into the earth.”
Villatoro is set to mark the grand opening of her first storefront at 327 W. Jefferson St., just around from the Coronado Performing Arts Center, on Nov. 19. She held a soft opening Friday.
She spent her first year in business growing her company at Rockford City Market and as part of a display inside The Midwest Rustic, 218 E. State St. in downtown.
“It started as a tiny little thing in The Midwest Rustic, and over the summer I was literally unable to catch up with inventory,” Villatoro said of her business growth. “That’s when I realized, I cannot keep doing this from market to market.”
When Midwest Rustic closed in late August, Villatoro decided she needed her own space.
“I had people messaging me wanting more product and needing to refill,” she said. “I had started that little fire in people and there was no way I was going to stop.”
“Everything fell together at exactly the right time. That’s when you know it’s meant to be.”
Inside the store, you can find everything from face wash and shampoo to toothpaste tablets, laundry detergent sheets and other household products.
She hasn’t finalized the hours for the store, yet. However, she said she plans to be open before shows at the Coronado begin. Beyond that, she said the store will likely be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons.
A new study released late last month by Greenpeace USA illustrates the need for businesses like Earth. The report stated that U.S. households generated an estimated 51 million tons of plastic waste in 2021, and less than 5% of that material was recycled.
The report also showed that plastic recycling has declined even as production ramped up. U.S. plastic recycling rates are estimated to have fallen from a high of 9.5% in 2014, when the country exported millions of tons to China “and counted it as recycled even though much of it was burned or dumped,” the report states.
The Greenpeace report also shows that two common plastics considered the most recyclable — PET No. 1, which is often used to make soda bottles, and HDPE No. 2, which is used for plastic jugs — are only repurposed 21% and 10% of the time.
Villatoro, who was born in Guatemala and raised in Rockford, started learning about environmental issues in high school. The 2002 Guilford High School graduate went on to get an undergraduate degree in sustainable design before getting her master’s in interior design from Harrington College of Design in Chicago.
“I’ve always had this heart for sustainability, for eco-friendly and being really eco-conscious, even when people weren’t really thinking about it,” she said.
She comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Both her grandfathers ran their own businesses, and in Rockford her mother operates a cleaning business and her father runs a landscaping company. She’s now running her own business while also maintaining a day job at Orange Theory.
After living in San Francisco, where she felt environmental consciousness was a bigger part of the public mindset, Villatoro came back to Rockford in 2018, initially running another business focused on creating sets and designs for weddings.
She formed Earth in December 2021 and started her first sales at markets in February this year. That includes Rockford City Market, where she started seeing momentum for her business.
“During the market I kept seeing a lot of these jars coming back and that really filled my heart so much with happiness,” she said. “I was seeing it become a movement, I was seeing it happen.”
Fast facts | Earth: A Zero Waste Company
Where: 327 W. Jefferson St., Rockford
Grand opening: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022