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Unpackaged: shopping without packaging

by Joan Marc Simon

Look at your home waste and you will see that it is mostly packaging. Once you have removed the food waste and paper what is left is mostly single use plastic bottles, cans, trays… Therefore, if you minimise the packaging in your shopping you will be generating less waste. Easy, uh?

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Unpackaged is one of these shops in Europe that allow you to shop without having to bring home a bunch of single-use recipients and plastic bags that only harm the planet and fatten our bins. Unpackaged was founded in 2006 by Catherine Conway in the belief that there is a better way to sell products, so that customers can do the right thing – for themselves and for the environment.

Catherine set up Unpackaged because she wanted to refill her groceries using her own containers. The dream was to set up a beautiful shop that made it really easy for customers to come & refill all their daily essentials.

The website of Unpackaged explains very well why whilst some packaging is necessary in our modern industrialised food chain, unnecessary packaging is a waste because of:

Cost: It increases the price of the goods you buy. You are charged twice – first when you buy over packaged products and then through council tax for disposing of your rubbish.

Waste: It wastes resources at every level: production, storage, transport and disposal.

Pollution: Landfill and incineration are the two main ways of dealing with packaging waste. These are major pollutants for people and the environment as they release toxics and greenhouse gases.

What about recycling? While some packaging is recycled, most ends up in landfill sites and incinerators and some packaging is difficult and impossible to recycle. Recycling is certainly part of the solution, but it will only work if we use less packaging and adopt more ‘reusable’ ways of doing things – Unpackaged is based on this ethos.

This is why the mantra of unpackaged is:

Reduce by only buying what you need
Reuse by bringing your containers for a refill
Recycle what you can’t reuse

And… if you can’t reuse or recycle it then don’t buy it!

There is a growing trend in Europe but also around the world to minimise packaging. After all, when people go shopping they want to buy food, drinks, etc, they don’t want to buy packaging!

In a sensible world the producers should be interested in getting back the packaging so that they don’t lose the materials and this way they can use them again and again. This is not only how our sensible grandparents used to do it, it is also the basis of a how a deposit refilling system works or how Extended Producer Responsibility is being to be implemented in British Columbia in Canada.

Implementing Zero Waste strategies it is not only sensible and fun, it also attracts interest from the media. See these press highlights for Unpackaged:

  • Two lovely videos from CNN & Reuters which show off Unpackaged.
  • Features in many different types of publications from national newspapers to industry, design & consumer magazines – The Grocer, Which Magazine, The Independent, Style Will Save Us
  • Time Out recently voted Unpackaged the #48th best shop in London
  • Catherine was voted #32 in the Observer Food Monthly Top 40 Eco Heroes.
  • Unpackaged was included in Time Out’s ‘Little Black Book’ of the 500 most essential services in London

In a sensible world the producers should be interested in getting back the packaging so that they don’t lose the materials and this way they can use them again and again.

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There are 5 comments
  1. Gonzalo Campos

    Interesting, but how do you avoid cross contamination, and enterobacteria enter this food supply chain?
    Which containers are consumers using when shopping, their own containers?, this might happen once, twice, three times, then a new bag or container will be used.

    it is a fairy tail for me, however I respect it and wish them the best!

  2. jm

    Gonzalo, using reusable containers, far from being a fairy-tale, is convenient, cheaper and of course less wasteful. Otherwise I know lots of people -me and your ancestors included- who would be living in fairy tales 😉

  3. tirumalapaperbagindustries

    hi friends…
    i guess this don’t workout in india as well as many poor educated countries. We r dependable on convinence. As an human being,our duty is to save our planet. Because we have no where else to go. earth loves us and gifts us premium quality natural resources. So we should love it back by atleast by not misusing & toxicating them with lot of petro chemicals which spoils our nature as well as our health conditions. so what i would finally suggest is, lets adopt Catherine Conway’s theory of “Shopping without packaging”
    i am rajesh, indian. 08885839994

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  5. marianne

    zerowaste lecture in our city last year, useful to expose the need for paradigm shift : garbage is used as central-incinerator fuel for urban heating, while wood supply (in our region) is a relevant alternative; unpackaged consumerism implies cutdown in hypermarketing; re-use instead of buy-break-throw away vicious circle has spun a public-sector initiative even for construction materials (window panes)..

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