Way back when my son, Lucas was in Kindergarten (he's 12 now), one of his projects was to learn about the environment and to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"--the Three Rs they called it. Ever since then, we have been recycling plastics, glass, metal and papers. Each week our large trash bin is nearly empty, but I'm constantly amazed at how full the recycling bin is. In fact, we are thinking of ordering the larger size bin from our recycling company. When you think about it, the landfill worthy trash we throw out can be very little when compared to the absolute glut of packaging that we bring into our homes each and every week: Cans, glass jars, plastic bottles, plastic jugs, cardboard boxes, plastic clam shells packs, milk containers, cereal boxes, foil containers... and then there's Amazon deliveries with their over-sized cartons holding one or two small items!
We should stop and consider the multitude of packaging from things like pasta, rice, cereals, coffee, olive oil, cookies, dish detergent, laundry soap, window cleaner and more. I used to be able to buy a large commercial size of Windex and would refill the same plastic spray bottle over and over. Lately I can't find large 2 gallon jugs of Windex anywhere and am forced to purchase the small spray bottle size once again. It's a shame... The two older Windex spray bottles have been refilled for over a decade!
To take it a step further, wouldn't it be great if we could just bring an empty container to a supermarket and refill my supply of Frosted Flakes, dish-washing liquid, olive oil or pasta? Well, you can.... in Italy and other countries...
Zero-Packaging Shopping (also called Zero-Waste or Packaging-Free) is taking off in Italy and some other European countries. Customers bring their own empty containers to the stores to refill them from bulk dispensers. If you don't have a container, either they offer bins full of clean, recycled free containers or they offer new ones for a small fee. The consumer saves big bucks because the price of packaging--which can be a big chunk of the price--is gone. There's a lot of advertising and marketing dollars that we subsidize in all that packaging on the shelves of our supermarkets! Both smaller shops and larger supermarket chains are beginning to embrace this new green, pro-consumer concept.
And you won't believe the range of products you can fill up on: pasta, candy, rice, cereal, cooking oils, soaps, cleaning products, detergents and yes, even wine! Picture the local upscale mall with it's bulk candy store where you buy priced by the weight and fill a bag--only the bins are much larger and the selection of what you can bulk up on includes just about anything you can buy in a bottle, box or bag. You buy only what you need--as much, or as little... For instance, instead of buying an expensive glass jar containing a bunch of vanilla beans or cinnamon sticks, you can buy just one one. Some of the stores even offer environmentally Greener services or are part of the Slow Food movement (the Local Food or Locavores movement) where most or all products come from local sources, drastically reducing the carbon footprint by lessening the carbon fuels needed for transportation in modern food supply chains.
Here's a sampling of some Zero-Packaging stores:
In Italy, Auchan is one of the largest of all supermarket chains and in 2004 added bulk products in dispensers to 48 of its stores throughout the country. They offer cereals, dried fruit, pasta and rice to detergents--a total of 800 products, including frozen foods, such as fish and vegetables. Customers purchase only the amount of product they need. Because these sales contain no packaging, it's estimated that Auchan alone keeps about 4,000,000 packages out of landfills every year--about 170 tons worth.
Negozio Leggero has stores in many cities in Italy: Turin, Milan, Morbegno, Asti, Moncalieri, Rome and Novara. They offer rice, grains and cereals, pasta, eggs, and candy in bulk without packaging. The point of sale in Novara provides home delivery by bike. Moreover, all points of sale organize thematic courses and days dedicated to the world of food.
Crai Eco Point
Another large supermarket chain we saw in Italy, Crai's Eco Point chain, has 34 locations all over Italy. They offer bulk pasta, rice, cereals, legumes, dried fruit, coffee, spices, sweets and detergents, as well as pet food. Their efforts are saving an estimated 1,000,000 disposable packages each year.
The Peso Netto (meaning, "Net Weight") store is located in Pesaro and reflects the “Zero Kilometres” and local food philosophy. You can find everything: fruits, vegetables, bread, oil, meat, wine and beer. All products sold are from local suppliers. The modern idea of packaging free combines with a feeling of shopping in an ols school local market.
Effecorta is a renowned store in the city of Milan. It is located outside the center because “we believe that Effecorta Milano should be a corner shop, where people can go to by bike or on foot”, the owners states. This point of sale offers home delivery by bike and it is furnished with bulk products, such as cereals, coffee, drinks and cosmetics. Points of sale are located in Capannori (the first one to be set up) and in Prato.
Borgo Etico is a co-operative located in Cesena. It offers varied services, including a packaging-free supermarket. Over 900 products are sold, including vegan and gluten-free foods. All products come from a short supply chain and are sold with no packaging.
This is a local shop in Pavia, Liguria. The old style shop offers a lot besides its nostalgic charm, including wine and seasonal foods locally produced. The young, enthusiastic people serving the customers are one of its benefits.
Bottega degli Sballati
This small shop opened in Ispra, Varese in 2013. It offers both bulk certified organic and Zero Kilometres foods. The origin is specified on every product, sometimes showing the pictures of who worked in the supply chain, such as farmers and artisans. It's got a strong following from the health and organic crowd.
Translated, Verdessenza means Solid Green. The environmentally conscious owners strive to sell foods and other products with a low environmental impact. Even the materials used in the construction of the shop are "Green". Suppliers are selected depending on their ethical views on the environment with most products being certified organic, locally sourced and offered in bulk without packaging. "Bring your basket." They even offer bike tire repair kits and air pumps!
If you're a bit jealous and would like to see Zero-Packaging shops here in the U.S., keep an eye on Texas. There is already a store in Austin which that sells local and organic products, all Packaging-Free. It's called In.gredients the country's very first "package-free, zero waste grocery store". Mostly in the state of Arizona and in 2016 opening more stores across the U.S., there is Sprouts, a health conscious supermarket chain that offers over 300 products in its bulk bins. If the trend continues, perhaps you will see Zero-Packaging in a store near you! The benefits are many:
For the time being, the next time you're in Italy, bring your basket and see what you think of going au naturale...
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