Let’s be honest. A plastic free supermarket where half of our shopping isn’t coated in cold and hard plastic is everyone’s dream.
The average family throws away 11 meals a month, equivalent to just under £60. Across UK households, hospitality and the retail industry, the country throws away 10 million tonnes of food annually, where 61% could have been saved if it had been managed better, according to Waste and Resources Action and Programme’s (Wrap) latest figures.
The borough of Hackney, in the east of London, currently only recycles 25.3% of its household waste, which against Bexely who recycles 54% of its waste, could be doing a lot more. In south Hackney, street lamps are adorned with large green signs encouraging its inhabitants to recycle their waste with the chance of winning £100. It’s clearly high on the council’s agenda.
But Ingrid Caldironi has taken matters into her own hands by opening the city’s first plastic free shop. Bulk Market® is a social enterprise on a mission to tackle food and packaging waste, supporting suppliers who are making a difference to people’s lives and the environment. They refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot (compost), so they can make the most of the resources available.
They operate using the principles of the Circular Economy, a system in which resource input and waste emission, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops.
“The idea came from my own needs. I wanted to support the right businesses and be able to shop without creating any waste, but there wasn’t anything like that in London,” says Caldironi. “I always thought waste was a natural output of modern living, but it turns out to be poor design. Things aren’t designed in a circular economy mind-set yet,” she adds.
The products are ‘brandless’, instead of hiding behind the familiar brand names and packaging we all know and recognise in the supermarkets. Those in Bulk Market are sourced locally from other social enterprises, co-operatives, and community farms or made on site.
“People will know how the food is made and where, all the way from farm to table, and ultimately, to the bin,” says Caldironi.
Inside the shop, all lined up you can find spices, while one wall is adorned with dispensers full of pasta, lentils, chickpeas and other dried goods – things that Caldironi says are almost impossible to get hold of plastic-free. There are no plastic bags – obviously – so take you own jars to top up, or use compostable bags and weigh out what you want.
After working in retail marketing, Caldironi decided that neither the corporate world nor policy makers were doing enough to tackle the waste problem, where she felt people are becoming increasingly disconnected from their food. “The same applies to the environment and the amount of disposable packaging we toss into landfills every year”, she says.
This site is a pop-up which has been crowd funded, but the plan is to move to a permanent location, which will host an on-site beehive, a commercial grade composting machine and a community area for workshops and talks to educate people on what else they can do to reduce their household waste, which Caldironi is an expert at, as at her home she doesn’t have any waste bins anymore and doesn’t send anything to landfill.
“We do have a recycling bin for cardboard, paper and glass though, but it takes months to fill up. We also compost all the food scraps and use it to grow herbs and ornamental plants on our balcony,” she says.
Caldironi’s ethos doesn’t just stop at the shop shelves though. At the new site, the materials from the refurbishment won’t be sent to landfill, but will be reused and some of the “new” items will be cast-offs from the Royal Opera House, giving their waste a new lease of life as a shop fitting.
Although some supermarkets are beginning to make changes, their sheer numbers of stores across the country means there’s still a long way to go in reducing food waste and plastic packaging. Unfortunately, a single one-stop plastic-free shop in the east of London is not accessible for everyone, but it’s an insight that one day this is how a weekly food shop will be, across the country, just like it used to be.