Zero-Waste and Bulk Shopping: concrete actions to sustainable consumption

Aug 12, 2016

This is a special feature in celebration of International Youth Day, with the theme “Sustainable production and consumption”

We are at the edge of a consumer revolution. Inspired by the Zero Waste Movement, an increasing number of consumers choose to act and reduce their waste for three main reasons: healthier living, less expenses and to take action to protect the environment. Let’s explore what may become the norm in a near future or at least a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs willing to embrace sustainability.

What is the Zero Waste Movement?

The Zero Waste Movement comes from the realization that our consumption patterns are not sustainable because we buy more than we actually consume. This inevitably leads to unnecessary waste and pollution (food waste and unnecessary packaging mainly).

With climate change and the terrible outcomes it is bringing, there is a growing need for alternative solutions. In the coming years, we will see a shift in consumption as resources are becoming scarce. We know for a fact that with sustainable agriculture, we will be able to feed the 7 billion humans on Earth. One of the simplest and effective solutions already existing to (1) reduce our waste, (2) eat healthy and non-processed food and (3) respect the environment is called bulk-shopping.

Bulk shopping is providing unpackaged food to consumers, and asking them to bring their own bags and jars to refill. This is good for three main reasons:

-Health: bulk-shops partner with local farmers to offer fresh organic food to their consumers, meaning neither pesticides nor GMOs are used. Food is more tasteful and healthier.

-Planet: local products means less transport and therefore less CO2 emissions. No packaging means less waste. Organic farming means land sustainability.

-Expenses: The products consumers buy are cheaper because they require less transport and no packaging. You only buy the quantity you need. Moreover it stimulates the local economy.

Where is the opportunity for entrepreneurs?

As more and more citizens are looking for alternatives like this, there is a need for more actual shops. One of the principles of zero-waste and bulk-shopping is having short distribution circuits. This involves less players between the producer and the consumer and leads to reshaping the current model: we don’t need big supermarkets anymore, we need smaller shops but in a greater number. This is a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs willing to commit to sustainable alternatives.

The new generation of entrepreneurs is now more than ever committed to contribute to a better World. Here are some examples of entrepreneurs that decided to take the leap.

Ye! Member Milena Glimboski started the OU project in 2012 when realizing that 16 million tons of packaging was dumped every year in Germany alone. They launched in 2014 with a bulk shop where people can buy packaging-free products. Local and organic products are proposed to the public, who has to come with their own containers.
In addition to the shop they have in Berlin, they propose to sell franchise rights throughout Germany.

Catherine Conway funded Unpackaged in London in 2006. Her goal was to set up a beautiful shop that made it really easy for customers to come and refill their daily essentials. The first shop they opened was a true success, they therefore expanded to another area of London, that proved unsuccessful (the addition of a café and bar distracted the audience from the original concept*. A year later they fixed the problem and opened a new shop that now knows success.

Granel is a collective of shops putting sustainable development at the heart of all their actions. The company has bulk shops located in Barcelona, Spain and throughout Catalonia. They have a more ‘activist’ mindset, with awareness actions about the benefits of such way of consuming. They also have a well-developed network of social agents, farmers, consumers and sellers, promoting synergy at different levels.


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