Local Mom Opens Walking Lightly. A Zero-Waste Shop in Ferndale.

Trade single-use plastics for zero waste options at the new Ferndale shop.

Let’s face it, parents juggle more than performers in a three-ring circus, and it’s hard to keep all the balls in the air. Tessa Benziger understands the struggle.

As an environmentally conscious mom, Benziger realizes it takes effort to reduce waste, recycle, and make purchases that benefit our health and environment. She wants to make it easier to live sustainably, to ensure there are enough resources for present and future generations.

Problem to idea 

“Pre-COVID I had gotten pretty good at reducing plastic waste from food, but I just felt so fed up with the amount of plastic that I was putting in the cart for home and body products,” Benziger says.

She learned to make her own lotion bars, laundry powder, dry shampoo, toilet-cleaning fizzy bombs, and more, but it was time-consuming. Managing subscriptions was daunting, and there was a question of the carbon footprint for all those orders.

“I wanted something simpler, and felt that there had to be other people in my community that were looking for the same. So, the idea for Walking Lightly was formed.” 

Dream to reality

When COVID hit, Benziger found it hard to manage her career as a social worker and meet the virtual school needs of her three kids.

“I decided to step back from my career, and realized it was the right time to gamble on this dream,” she says.

She opened Walking Lightly, a shop where local families can easily fill up on eco-friendly home products without adding more plastic to the landfill. (A UC Santa Barbara study shows 40% of plastic produced is packaging, used just one then discarded.)

“We carry products that are safe for families and the planet. Products are free from harmful ingredients, and we prioritize closed-loop systems, so we aren’t just tossing containers in the recycling, either,” Benziger says. There is plenty to try, like the Cucumber Rose Facial Toner, Angelica and Lavender body lotion, shampoo, deodorant, dish soap, cleaning supplies, and more.

Customers can fill their own clean and dry containers, or purchase aluminum or glass containers at the store. If you bring a container, make sure it has a tight-fitting lid, and Benziger advises against using glass in the bath and shower.

Walking Lightly participates in some Terracycling programs and offers workshops in sustainable living. Follow the store on social media for event details and registration. They also offer limited local delivery to provide for the community while minimizing their carbon footprint.

Work-life balance  

When asked how she manages everything, Benziger admits, “Some days the juggle goes better than others.” She created a schedule that allows her some “days off.” Even on those days she spends time with her kids, then works after they’re in bed.

“I believe that living sustainably includes our time and energy, and try to keep that in mind when making decisions. I’m not always great at maintaining those boundaries, but if I keep coming back to it, that’s what counts, right?”

She credits amazing help to run the shop, and her husband who shares responsibilities when working from home. “And honestly, when any mom-guilt starts creeping up, my kids help me more than anyone. They are really genuinely proud of me, and I think them seeing me take a risk is a good lesson for them,” she says.

Future goals

Developing into a community resource is a goal of Benziger’s.

“I would also love for Walking Lightly to take an active role in making sustainable options more accessible. We have done some fundraising for community organizations and are excited to grow those efforts. We are also hoping to offer refilling options to other local small businesses who are eco-minded,” she says.

Advice for starting  

Benziger recommends finding an area where you create the most waste (the kitchen, the bathroom, etc.), and changing one thing there that will transition smoothly into your life. She says most people start with hand and body soap or dish soap, and move to shampoo and conditioner, since they’re already comfortable buying bigger containers of those items.

“Living sustainably does not have to be perfect, and doesn’t really have to be ‘zero waste’. Honestly, my family creates waste. We try the best we can, but we aren’t doing it perfectly, and that’s ok,” she says. “I’m happy to chat about this stuff, so if folks have questions, I hope they will feel comfortable reaching out with questions.”

For more information about Walking Lightly visit walkinglightly.net, check out their popular workshops on Facebook and Instagram @walking.lightly.mi, or email the store at together@walkinglightly.net.

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