With inspiration from Europe and North America, one of the easiest ways individuals can lessen negative impacts is by cutting down on day-to-day use of single-use items which include disposable tableware such as spoons and forks, cups, stirrers, straws, take-away containers, sanitary materials, and packaged condiments.
As people become used to cutting down on packaging for takeaway foods and beverages, attention is shifting towards the packaging of foods and groceries that consumers take home.
Zero-waste stores operate on the principle of reducing packaging, encouraging bulk-buying and supporting ethical consumption in all aspects of their business activities from manufacture, production to retail. These stores aim to produce a smaller carbon footprint compared to a normal store.
According to Paola Cortese, founder of Zero Waste Lifestyle – a Hong Kong-based social enterprise – it only takes five essential products to reduce personal waste: a lunchbox, reusable bag, liquid container, handkerchief and non-plastic cutlery.
Zero-waste stores are popping up across Asia selling foods in bulk and helping consumers meet their daily dietary needs in the form of nuts, grains and other cooking staples. Visitors to these stores can expect to see bins piled high with ingredients, weighing scales and jars for shoppers to carry their goodies home. Most of these stores follow a pay-by-weight concept where the price is calculated on the weight of the product, excluding the containers.
In Hong Kong, stores such as Edgar in Wan Chai or LiveZero in Sai Ying Pun dominate the game. Recently, LiveZero has opened a sister store across the street, LiveZero Bulk Beauty which provides beauty basics such as soaps, shampoos, conditioners and exciting products like body butters, every essential oil under the sun, eco-friendly menstrual products and baby care lines. It is so refreshing to see the lack of packaging compared to supermarkets suffocating in plastic!
The zero-waste culture movement – which ultimately led to the development of zero-waste stores – was fostered by individuals such as Carrie Yu of Mainland China’s Bulk House, or Instagram influencer Hannah Chung who dedicated a year of her life to producing little-to-no waste. Hannah considers the movement a great conversation starter, and therefore an ideal way to get the message out to the masses.
Hong Kong’s zero-waste guru Claire Sancelot went on to open Malaysia’s first zero-waste store, The Hive Bulk Foods.
Awareness of the environmental devastation being created by single-use items appears to be growing. Recently, the United Nations estimated that almost 1 million plastic drinking bottles are sold across the globe every single minute. Such statistics are forcing governments to take a more proactive approach to the problem. Bobsy Gaia, founder of Hong Kong fast-slow food chain Mana!, estimates some 2.1 million coffee cups and plastic lids are discarded every day in Hong Kong.
Last World Environment Day, held in June, organisations such as the United Nations called people out to #BeatPlasticPollution. And since the world is becoming more aware of this major issue, reforms are gaining pace, such as Malaysia’s comprehensive Roadmap to a Sustainable Future by 2030, released by the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology. Research in India suggests that simple plastic bans have not been effective in curbing consumption, so the country has decided to phase out plastic by 2022 by making use of various economic instruments.
In Thailand the single-use plastic problem has reached epic proportions due to the street-food culture where packaging is disposed of immediately afterwards. Here, the government is helping to develop a strategy to eliminate single-use plastics and bottles across the country by 2025. Hopefully, other major markets where plastic consumption is excessive – such as China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam – will follow closely behind.
Meanwhile, at a consumer level, a proud moment for Hong Kong would be the crowning of Janice Lao from Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited (HSH) as Sustainability Leader of the Year, 2019. She has promoted recycling and reduction of packaging, dedicating time and effort to the use of sustainable alternatives in a highly efficient manner.
Finally, it is not just zero-waste stores that support the idea of not using packaging. Small and large retailers alike may help decrease their carbon footprint by adopting techniques such as carbon-positive packaging. One example is British cosmetics retailer Lush with its hand-made products sold ‘naked’ without packaging. You can purchase a reusable container instore or bring your own and fill it.
And even the popular fashion label H&M has implemented a textile-recycling initiative and plans to sustainably source all of its fabrics by next year.
For those eager to experience the zero-waste store concept, here are some examples from Asia that have adopted this bulk-buying system:
● Refill Station – 2031 Sukhumvit 77/1 Alley, Phra Khanong Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand.
● A Bit Less – 20, Jalan Ambong 4, Kepong Baru, 52100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
● The Source Bulk Foods – 501 Bukit Timah Road 01-05a Cluny Court, Singapore 259760.
● Unpack.SG – 6 Jln Kuras, Singapore 577724.
● Humble Market – YDG Coffee, Mandala Park, Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong, 1552 Metro Manila, Philippines.
● Ritual – 2nd Floor, Languages International Bldg., 926 Arnaiz Ave., Makati City.
● Tap Hoá Lá Xanh – 29 Đoàn Thị Điểm, Phường 1, Phú Nhuận, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam.
● Zero Waste Hanoi 0 Ngõ 203 Chùa Bộc, Trung Liệt, Đống Đa, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam.
● Unpackaged.U – No. 16, Guiyang Street, Sanchong District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 241.
● The Bulkstore & Co – The Bulkstore & Co, Jl. 47 KH Wahid Hasyim, Menteng, Jakarta Pusat.
● Naked Inc – Como Park, Jl. Kemang Timur No. 998, Bangka, Jakarta, Indonesia.