It seems that to move forward to a more sustainable version of grocery stores we first have to look backwards, back to when our grandparents were spring chickens, pre the Plastic Age. Only then can we begin to see that it's possible for life to go on without so much plastic in the world. In fact, refillable glass jars, tin cans and paper bags will suffice.
Plastic has become a symbol of our ‘throwaway’ consumerism. Its properties - cheap, durable and lightweight – make it perfect for single use applications, which are the height of convenience. Half of all the plastics produced worldwide are used for such disposable products. Walk into any grocery store and you will see the proliferation of plastic; salads, fruits and veggies are all wrapped in the stuff. Even wholefoods is guilty, at one point having sold peeled oranges in plastic containers (as if we couldn't peel the oranges ourselves?!). And just when you thought we couldn’t get any lazier, Sobey launched a pre-cut, pitted and halved avocado wrapped in plastic, replacing natures ‘skin’ with a petroleum based equivalent.
The issues associated with plastics are well documented; they choke aquatic life, litter landscapes, and derive from oil. Yet can you imagine life without them? Well, our grandparents certainly could and there is a growing ‘zero waste’ grocery store movement that seeks to return to some of the ideals of our grandparents times. Zero waste grocery stores, or essentially bulk stores, try to eliminate plastic altogether. They go back to the barrels and bins of the pre plastic age, usually with an added modern, sleek aesthetic.
Walking down the aisles of these new kinds of grocery stores the products speak for themselves; you can see into the ‘bins’ and the dispensers of honeys, oils, vinegars and grains. Rather than get overwhelmed by too many choices, as is often the case in large supermarkets, these stores tend to simplify things, returning to a more personal or 'artisanal' bond with local grocers as the grocer hand picks a trustworthy few types of rice, pasta, and so on.
Across Europe these kinds of stores are multiplying and America is now catching on; NYC is due its first zero waste grocery store – The Fillery – any day now.
These kinds of stores help fight food waste, enabling you to purchase the exact quantity of something you want or need, even if it is only a couple of grams of flour for a chocolate cake you’re making or a pinch of spice for your culinary experiments. You can fill up your tote bags, your jars, and your burlap sacks exactly how you want.
But fundamentally, best of all, these stores are championing ‘precycling’, which stops waste before it even happens, thereby helping to tackle the vast quantities of plastic packaging produced today.