Sustainable Living

The Rise Of Zero Waste Shops

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Zero waste shops are on the rise across the UK, which indicates an increasing awareness of – and an interest in preventing – the harm caused by waste. Zero waste shops ditch packaging altogether. Instead of using packaging for food, customers bring in their own containers from home, weigh the products they want to buy, and fill up their containers. There aren’t so many zero waste shops that you’re likely to casually walk past one (you’ll most likely have to specifically seek one out). Nonetheless, new ones are opening all the time, so they’re definitely rising in popularity.

Let’s take a look at some of the newest ones that have opened, not just in the UK but in the US as well. If we pay attention to the rationale behind these shops, it will become clear how crucial they are in the promotion of sustainable living. After all, plastic pollution is one of the most severe environmental problems we are currently facing.

How Zero Waste Shops Operate

The Package Free Shop opened in Brooklyn, New York back in May 2017. But it’s expanded since then. It recently launched an online store, allowing customers to order products shipped in a plastic-free box that is either recycled or upcycled (reusing waste without destroying it first, which is more energy efficient than recycling).   

Another zero waste shop recently opened in Hackney, London. Re:Store, based in Hackney Downs Studios, is a household essentials refilling shop. You can either bring your own containers or buy them at the shop. On offer is an assortment of nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, teas, and cleaning products. Many products are also locally sourced, which helps to cut down on vehicle pollution.

But it’s not just in trendy areas of London and New York that zero waste shops are opening. For example, there is a new zero waste shop in Bury, St Edmunds in Suffolk called Clear To Sea. The shop contains a variety of vegan products and eco-friendly alternatives. Instead of plastic, cardboard packaging is used for many items. The shop is determined to do away with unnecessary packaging and help customers shop in a more environmentally friendly way. The owner and former teacher Catherine Winn says the shop has been a huge success, with widespread support from the local community.

“after seeing the horrendous images of whales and turtles and the impact our misuse of plastic is having on the environment.” – Winn

She also emphasised how social media has played a positive role in raising awareness about these issues. When you see images of animal bodies full of plastic they’ve ingested, this can have a lasting impact. It’s not something that can be ignored.

The Benefits of Zero Waste Shops

Zero waste shops can play an important role in ending our relationship with single-use plastic. But when eco-friendly practices are applied to online zero waste shops, too, then this can also help to reduce other forms of pollution. As a case in point, the Package-Free Shop in Brooklyn doesn’t offer returns, which encourages customers to be more mindful when shopping. On the shop’s website, it states:

“Reverse logistics (or returns) generates 5 billion pounds of landfill waste per year in the U.S. In the return process, trucks burn roughly 1.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, resulting in 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In 2017, 11.3 percent of all purchases were returned, amounting to $380 billion worth of goods.

We believe that the ‘shop online in excess because returns are free’ culture is the real issue here and that we should only buy what we have really researched. Our advice? Learn to be a smarter online shopper.”

Sophie Rae, the founder of Ripple, a zero waste shop in Cardiff, Wales, says that shunning packaging and weighing food “makes zero-waste shopping cost effective”. If people are cooking to a recipe, then they can buy less food than they normally would buy since they can weigh exactly how much they need. This helps to reduce food waste, which is a massive problem in the UK. We currently throw away 1.9 million tonnes of food every year. 250,000 tonnes of this food is edible, which is especially shocking when you factor in how 1 in 8 people go hungry in the UK.

Our shopping habits are decimating the oceans, putting the existence of species at risk, wasting food on a gargantuan scale, and significantly contributing to vehicle pollution. However, if it’s possible to sustain ourselves by using zero waste shops, then it’s important that this way of shopping scales up and becomes a convenient option for all of us.

About the author

Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer who is particularly interested in sustainability, veganism, ethics, drug policy, mental health, and psychology. You can follow him on Twitter (@samwoolfe) and find more of his work at www.samwoolfe.com.

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  • There’s a fantastic selection of zero waste shops popping up around Cornwall, glad to see the movement spreading far and wide!