Package Free Shopping – Myth or reality?
I often walk into the supermarket and find myself asking… ‘Why is there such a limited selection of package free items?’ It seems that everything tends to come in some form of packaging. When I unpack my groceries at home, most of this packaging ultimately ends up filling up my bin. From pasta and rice in plastic bags, or sealed plastic films for my biscuit trays which are then put in a cardboard pack to film covered plastic trays for my fruits and vegetables.
Package-free options in supermarkets – do we want them?
A survey commisioned by A Plastic Planet showed that over 90% of the 2,000 participants asked supported an aisle free of plastic packaging at supermarkets. The study also highlighted that 80% of those in the study were also generally worried about the plastic packaging that goes to waste in the UK and its environmental impact. As Sian Sutherland, the co-founder of A Plastic Planet points out “For years we’ve been able to buy gluten-free, dairy-free and fat-free, so why not plastic free”
Actually when I looked into the idea of package or plastic free I realised it’s not that new. Until the mid-20th century it would be the usual thing to go to local bakeries and grocers, buying by weight and without additional packaging. They would also have flour or rice from big bags or barrels on offer. Ever since pre-packaged goods and the subsequent explosion of supermarkets chains became the norm, packaging has turned from an accepted issue of convenience into a predominately environmental issue that changed the way how we do our weekly shop.
Shops without packaging – reliving the past!
All over the world shops have been popping up in many of the major cities that go back to buying in bulk and without excessive packaging, specifically without plastic. They are also promoting alternatives in other areas such as metal lunch boxes, reusable food wrappers or reusable water bottles made of glass. The first one in Europe actually opened in London and is incorporated into Planet Organic in north London. Based on the idea Original Unverpackt (translated as Originally Unpackaged) started crowdfunding in 2012. In 2014 they opened their shop for plastic and package free items ranging from groceries, sweets and spirits to cosmetics, cleaning items and books, all adding up to over 600 different products. Most of the items are locally sourced and organic. Since 2016 you can even order non-food items online and just recently they have launched their own magazine on sustainable and zero waste issues.
During a short break in Berlin, I had a chance to have a look at one of their lovely shops. It had an open layout and kept in white with some wooded shelves and furniture. They had a shelf with fresh fruit and veg, fridges with drinks in glass bottles produced locally and spices, herbs, pulses, rice and pasta in bulk. They also had refill stations for varied items such as cosmetics, cleaning liquids and even wine and the atmosphere seemed relaxed and friendly. Shops like these also seem to unconsciously share a sense of community which Milena Glimbovski, one of the founders of Original Unverpackt, explained through their Crowdfunding campaign by giving people the chance to get involved. People had an opportunity to create a real alternative and inspire others. It’s basically a grassroots movement.
What does the future hold?
Looking at the future impact of plastics on the environment, package free supermarkets or even just supermarket aisles will be a step into the right direction to decrease the harmful effects of plastic packaging. Since 1950, humans have produced around 8.3 billion tons of plastic with 6.3 billion tons sent to landfill. Plastic breaks down into tiny pieces that can travel far, get into living organisms and pollute the environment. Even the United Nations have warned that “…the presence of microplastics in foodstuff could potentially increase direct exposure of plastic-associated chemicals to humans and may present an attributable risk to human health“.
Professor Hilary Kennedy, who works at Bagnor University’s School of Ocean Sciences adds that “there is a growing body of evidence that plastic waste poses a global challenge, directly affecting marine life and ecosystems. A plastic-free aisle in supermarkets would help encourage a reduction in the amount of plastic waste being dumped in our environment.”
Packaging free shopping in west London
There may not be many package-free supermarkets in London but there are some options. You can find Unpackaged at Planet Organic in Hackney with selections of unpackaged coffee, grains, nuts, pulses, seeds, wine, dried fruits, Ecover refills, cereals and chocolate, all available without packaging. Bulk Market which also offers unpackaged products in a similar way to Original Unverpackt.
In west London you can find bulk sections at As Nature Intended in Ealing and Chiswick which also have Ecover refill stations at Wholefoods in Richmond. Neal’s Yard Remedies in Richmond offer dried herbs and teas and are happy for you to use your own containers. If you don’t live anywhere near those places, farmer’s markets and local green grocers are a great starting point to buy loose produce, especially fruit and vegetables. To find the nearest one to your home, check out the website www.lfm.org.uk. If you’re looking for a specific package-free item like soap, shampoo/conditioner, pasta and wine this website also gives you some options
If there is somewhere you know of locally that specifically has packaging free supplies, then share it with us by tweeting us at @WestLondonWaste or messaging us on our Facebook page West London Waste Authority
Written by Christin Kowalke