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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…
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The UK goes plastic-free too!
Lately the UK has been hitting headlines to announce not one, but two package free shops. Whilst they may be miles apart, with one in Devon and one in the heart of city life in London, they share the same ethos: plastic is absolutely not welcome inside the store.
Eco-warrior couple Richard and Nicola Eckersley launched their store Earth.Food.Love. in Devon after moving away from a fast-paced city life where recycling was basically non-existent. Seeing the volume of plastic that the husband and wife duo accumulated each week was enough to shock them, and the frequent tips to the recycling plant grew tiresome. Earth. Food. Love. became a powerful form of physical activism upon where like-minded people can live a sustainable and clean living and shop without being weighed down by unnecessary plastic.
You’re encouraged to take along your own containers when visiting the store as everything in stored in dispensers, ready for you to fill up. And with over 1oo organic, loose self-serve products for you to shop from you’ll find everything you need from cereals and pulses to dried fruit and loose-leaf teas. And it doesn’t stop there, there’s also a selection of zero-waste toiletries and cleaning products. The store is filled with items supported by earth conscious companies and it’s a great place to shop with confidence that you’re supporting the planet.
The best feature? Easily the grind-your-own nut butter machines. With both almond and peanuts available, you can make your own butter in store and re-fill your jar time and time again. Who doesn’t love nut butter?!
Inspired by Lauren Singer, the blogger who can fit her yearly plastic consumption into a mason jar, Ingrid Caldironi set about embracing a zero-waste lifestyle. But soon she was hit with the reality that brands don’t exactly make it easy for us to ditch plastic. Here Bulk Market was born to do the job so many failed to do for the planet.
Bulk Market is the first plastic free job in city and stocks more than 300 items in the pop-up shop, and it’s not just food you’ll find when you pop by for a shop. There’s dried goods, too, alongside bamboo toothbrushes, paper-wrapped toilet roll and even pet food.
Simply bring along your own storage jars or compostable bags and weigh them upon entering. Once you’ve shopped and filled them up with the goods the weight of your jar will be deducted, just leaving the weight of your goods to pay for. It has a real nostalgic war-time feel to the shopping experience (without the ration cards) where you’d buy your goods lose instead of heavily laden in plastic. Everything in Bulk Market is brandless, so the contents aren’t hidden behind elaborate branding and packaging. The products sold here are sourced locally from other social enterprises or community farms.
Sadly Bulk market is currently just a pop-up store, with the intention of moving to a permanent space soon. On their crowd funding page, the donations are rolling in at speed, which proves there’s a movement happening with more and more people wanting to shop without plastic.
When it comes to package-free shopping, Catherine Conway has been ahead of the game for some time now. In 2006 Catherine founded Unpackaged at market stalls around East London, before opening up a small shop in central London that sold over 700 products in bulk. Since then, keen to spread the zero waste message, she has met with many entrepreneurs around the globe in a bid to get them all ditching plastic for good. And her hard-work has paid off as Unpackaged recently partnered up with the popular London food store Planet Organic to pave the way for the future of supermarket shopping.
Currently unique to Planet Organic, the duo have created a more traditional way of shopping, upon where goods are measured and weighed and do not come in hard-to-recycle plastic packaging. Shoppers who are keen to keep their shopping footprint low and eco friendly can use a series of refillable dispensers to shop for goods. Catherine goes on to say, “This is the future of shopping. Without getting sentimental, the ‘old’ way of shopping was much, much kinder to our environment. Supply chain was a simpler affair, and bulk offerings allowed shoppers to choose how much they wanted, thus cutting down on packaging AND food waste. I’m incredibly proud today. It’s a massive step in the long journey towards a truly zero waste weekly shop.”