While she was building her business, 23-year-old CEO Maria Vasco was still a student at UMass Boston, enrolled as an environmental studies and sustainability major with a minor in political science.

“My freshman year is when I discovered environmental science, and I was just so shocked at what I was learning,” she told hosts Jim Braude and Sue O’Connell on a Friday edition of GBH’s Boston Public Radio.

“I was learning about climate change, animals going extinct… and I really was called to the specific issue [of plastic waste]," she said. "It’s just insane what it can do to us in our environment.”

Vasco knew she wanted to become an entrepreneur, and she knew she wanted to operate a different sort of business from what the city had to offer. With the help of a $5,000 scholarship from her university, she opened Uvida in December of 2020.

Uvida is Boston’s first zero-waste business, meaning all the products are made sustainably and without the use of plastics. They sell plants, toiletries and other trinkets out of their storefront in Boston’s North End, as well as online.

“Our store basically has all your home essential products such as deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner,” she said. “Basically the products that you use in the morning before you leave your house, and at nighttime when you’re going to bed.”

So far, she said business has been good — good enough that she's in talks to open a second location sometime in the near future.

“We have a great community that is supporting the business,” she said.

As far as her shop’s name, Vasco explained that Uvida stems from the Spanish “vida,” for “life.” The “U,” she said, is a nod to the personal day-to-day choices we can make to protect the environment and combat climate change.

“Our tagline is “you give life,” and we say that because if you contribute to reducing the amount of plastic waste that you give off to the environment, you’re ultimately providing to life on earth,” she said.

Vasco also noted she’s watching the markets closely, and anticipates a broader pivot to plastic-free options in the nation’s biggest stores in years to come. While that might spook other small business owners, she said she’s not worried about the big-name competition.

“I think it’s overall, a very good thing,” she said. “As a small business, we are leading the path for this, and we have a community that is very supportive.”

“It won’t be big enough until Walmart and Home Depot and Amazon and all these bigger companies also have to make these changes,” she added.