By Lora O’Brien
Do you ever go shopping – be it for fashion, beauty or food – only to find that you practically have to dig whatever you bought out of layer upon layer of plastic packaging before finally finding the thing you paid good money for?
Let me give you an example: if I buy avocados at Tesco, they’re sold in pairs. Those pairs are in a little avocado-shaped dish, which is then wrapped in plastic with a label and bar code. If I accept a plastic bag for these, (which I would never do, of course) that’s three whole layers of plastic. For avocados, my friend. And after unveiling the fruits, where does all that plastic go? Straight into landfill. We don’t think twice really, do we? But we should: plastic breaks down into smaller pieces before it biodegrades (after several centuries) and then poses as a huge threat to marine, animal and soil health. And with only 29% of 5 million tonnes plastic being recycled annually in the UK, (and only 14% the USA) that’s a heck of a lot of plastic floating polluting our planet.
What kills me is this: why are basics, like avocados and toothbrushes, even in plastic in the first place? Why can’t they be package free? It costs the manufacturer more, and hurts the environment. And why are things that were once easily recycled or biodegradable, like returnable glass bottles or paper straws – now made of plastic? It makes no sense…until you realise that there’s no penalty for the retailer; it’s we, the taxpayer, who pay to dispose of this useless crap that’s forced upon us. And forced upon us it is. I would love to buy my avos and toothbrushes loose, but in some countries – namely the developed English speaking ones – it’s pretty hard to do.
Which is exactly why two influential people – Lauren Singer of zero-waste blog Trash is for Tossers and her pal, designer, former Project Runway contestant, and Eluxe favourite Daniel Silverstein – have decided to do something radical to point out how harmful plastic waste is, and what can be done about it.
The dynamic duo have birthed Package Free, a first-of-its-kind store that is working to educate shoppers on the benefits of living a zero waste lifestyle and how to cut down on plastic. And these guys should know: Lauren can fit all of trash she’s accumulated over five years inside a single mason jar, and Daniel, better known as Zero Waste Daniel, constantly demonstrates how smart design can reduce fashion waste.
You may initially mistake their trendy store in Brooklyn for some kind of art exhibition; it has that vibe, with its sketch-graffiti walls, high ceilings, repurposed industrial pallets and neon lighting. But once you step inside and look a bit closer, what you’ll find is a space packed with ideas for living a more eco-friendly existence.
‘It’s a place for you to come and learn, and discover
reusable alternatives to single use disposables.’
– Daniel Silverstein
Lining the shelves are all natural laundry detergents, soaps, bamboo toothbrushes, stainless steel razors and reusable coffee cups – to name but a few items – that show shoppers how making small shifts in their choices can help them become both trash and plastic-free.
Cloth produce bags are available for shoppers to store items in which, unlike plastic, can be reused again and again. Instead of buying plastic razors and tossing them in the trash, you can use an old-school metal razor with removable blades, and even send them back to the shop to be recycled when they’re dull.
If you’re usually mindful of the products you buy and how they’re packaged, you’ll know how hard it is to find great options – it can be seriously time consuming scouring different shops. But Package Free brings all of those items into a one-stop shop for sustainable living, whilst educating people about ways they can help the environment that little bit more – actual workshops are offered here, such as Soap Making, Basic Mending and Succulent Gardening, to help you DIY instead of relying on manufacturers.
This is something North America really needs. Most European, Asian and South American supermarkets are pretty much waste-free; they rarely package their produce in bags or plastic punnets, and supermarkets will usually wrap cheese, fish and meat up in waxed paper rather than styrofoam and plastic. There are also loads of zero waste and bulk shops dotted all over Europe and Canada already. But Singer and Silverstein’s store takes it to the next level by selling stuff beyond food – here, you will find all the tools needed for zero-waste living in one place – everything from compostable dental floss and coffee cups to food storage bags, all under one roof.
All of the items in the store are either compostable or recyclable, and are made to be used countless times, as opposed to the single use, disposable goods that clog most retail spaces. And there’s even the option to return them when their life is depleted (think: frayed toothbrushes) and they’ll make sure it goes on to be re-used or recycled in some way.
A few of the products in the store do come in (recyclable) packaging, but as Lauren says: ‘we’re offering customers the opportunity to give that packaging back to us. And we, as the retailer, will take that responsibility and properly dispose of, through recycling or composting, any packing that’s on a product.’
Now, if only all shops were like this one…
For more information, please click here.