Latina-owned UVida hopes to combat climate change by bringing zero-waste to Boston


Photo courtesy Maria Vasco

Maria Vasco hopes to inspire more people to adopt zero-waste lifestyles by making sustainable products accessible to the average consumer.

Gabrielle Hernandez, news correspondent

After bearing witness to disastrous floods, endless hurricane seasons and massive, blazing fires, many from younger generations are seeking change. Maria Vasco hopes to be a part of that change by bringing UVida, a store that sells zero-waste products, to Boston. 

Zero-waste has become an increasingly popular trend over the last few years — consumers, especially millennials and Generation Z, are concerned with the environment and they are looking to invest their money in companies that seek to preserve their future and the future of the planet. The overwhelming amount of plastic in personal care items, kitchen needs and everyday products is devastating in the face of fighting global climate change. 

Zero-waste is not just about buying from environmentally-friendly companies. Adopting the lifestyle typically entails reducing the amount of plastic in everyday purchases. It is a challenging shift to make — if you take a tour of your own house, you might be apprehensive to give up your favorite shampoos and face washes, tightly wrapped in plastic that will sit in a landfill for centuries. On top of that, it can be hard to find those products on a casual shopping trip, with few stores carrying truly plastic-free brands. 

“Because there are not a lot of zero-waste stores, you have to go out of your way to be zero-waste,” said Charlotte Collins, a third-year environmental studies major and co-president of Composting at Northeastern University. Accessibility to zero-waste products remains one of the more common challenges for students trying to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. 

In December 2019, Vasco decided to make zero-waste products more accessible to the average consumer. With her environmental science background and interest in bringing the zero-waste lifestyle to Boston, she started UVida, an online Latina-owned store that carries beauty, health and household needs sans plastic. With a few pop-ups around Boston, her business became the first zero-waste store in the city. Led by Vasco alone, the shop carries artisan products to jumpstart anyone’s zero-waste journey, ranging from deodorant with recyclable containers to solid dish soap.

“I did not know I was going to start a business,” Vasco said. “Boston did not have a store that was just plastic-free home essentials that people need.” 

Vasco found inspiration in her environmental science class, a course requirement for her political science major at the University of Massachusetts Boston, before she changed her major to environmental science. 

“My brain was exploding every day. I was learning something that I found to be really important,” Vasco said. “‘This is it, I have found what I am interested in and what motivates me to get out of bed in the morning.’” 

While studying abroad for a semester in Madrid, Spain, Vasco found the solution to turning her passion for the environment into an entrepreneurial goal. Just below her apartment was one of a few zero-waste stores in Madrid. For Vasco, it was revolutionary — they sold bottles of sunscreen that could be brought back to the store for refills, significantly reducing the need for more plastic. 

Born from these inspirations was UVida, which started with bamboo toothbrushes and water bottles, two things Vasco thought were essential and easy swaps for anyone that wanted to reduce their carbon footprint. Then, the pandemic started. 

While many people newly in quarantine were cultivating sourdough starters and catching up on shows, Vasco began planning for her first storefront. As a college senior in 2020, Vasco graduated online into a dismal job market. She decided that instead of waiting for her UVida dreams to come true, she would make them happen. 

“I just had to take the leap of faith … I was not happy at all at my full-time job, so I quit and I decided to just aim to open my own storefront,” Vasco said. In December 2020, she launched UVida’s first permanent location at 28 Atlantic Ave. in the North End. 

“I cannot believe Boston didn’t have a zero-waste store before, it seems so counterintuitive because Boston is pretty sustainable as cities go,” Collins said. 

Boston has some government-led sustainable initiatives, such as switching over to a renewable energy-based electrical grid and multiple private composting companies. UVida’s new, permanent location in the North End will hopefully make plastic-reduction a new priority in Bostonians’ fight against climate change. 

For the future, Vasco has grand plans for UVida. With the storefront open, they have had space to open a plant store and Vasco is looking to add a refill station come February, allowing customers to easily refill their sunscreen, shampoo and face washes. Post-pandemic, her dreams are even bigger. 

“I am prepared. I have this storefront, I know this movement is happening,” Vasco said. 

With the space she has, she wants to host events and free community classes highlighting sustainability and teaching people how to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle. 

“Just dip your toe in and see if you like it — see if you like that product, see if it makes your skin feel better, see if you feel better about how you treat the planet,” Vasco said, encouraging others to help change the environment with one less plastic product at a time.