As we the great British public become more and more aware of the damage, we humans cause to our planet, it is good to see that the high street is now playing host to some very eco stores.

They are called everything from Scoop Full, Jar Full, Zero waste, Refill Pantry to the Naked Pantry.  They all have one thing in common, they all provide unpackaged food & household products.  ‘Bring your own container’ shops are growing in number and it is now easier than ever to find and use one but are they as eco as we think?

How do they work?

You visit the store with your receptacle – be that a jar, a bottle, yoghurt pots or Tupperware. Usually as you enter the store you weigh your containers and put a small sticker on your container, which can be reused again on your next visit (to save waste).  Fill up with the products you need and then at the checkout they charge you for the weight of the goods you have filled your containers up with (excluding the weight of the container which you weighed on your way in) – As we understand it the majority of these stores have remained open during the pandemic but have put restrictions in place – mostly you wait at the door whilst they fill your containers etc.

Borrowed from beunpackaged.com
Are they as Eco as we think?
YES, the positives

As well as cutting down on pointless plastics and single use packaging, zero waste shopping can help combat food waste if you only buy what you need, and they can help you eat healthier ingredients.

We are talking organic veggies (often vegan or vegetarian), nut butter ground in store, Fairtrade tea and coffee and most of the below stores also sell plastic free cleaning products, homewares (bamboo toothbrushes and steel lunchboxes).

They also tend to be independently owned and often stock local suppliers, so you are putting more money back into your local economy and they are becoming community centres for likeminded people.

We recommend using glass, wood, and metal containers – as they are less like to crack or stain, as such they last longer (assuming you are not too clumsy). They are also much easier to recycle at the end of their life than plastic is.  We also recommend using Glass, metal, and wood as the only true way to reduce plastic usage is not to manufacture it in the first place.  Only a very small percentage of plastic (9%) made is ever recycled.  So, a bit like the adage… “The only safe sex is no sex” we should have similar one for plastic.  We need to stop manufacturing plastic to reduce its use in the long term.

NO, the negatives:

If you must travel outside your local town or area to visit one of these Eco stores is it still an environmentally positive task to undertake?  If you have to drive to one of these shops, whilst you are helping to reduce the amount of plastic you use, you are doing more damage to the environment using your car, even if its electric.  We feel to make the most of these types of stores you should use one local to you, unless you can band together with friend and neighbours to ensure your car is at least full, as you can all then share the split of pollution caused by using the car.

Replacing a piece of single-use plastic packaging with a Tupperware container means you’ve got maybe ten times the material — therefore you need to reuse it maybe ten or 20 or 100 times before it’s a better solution in material consumption terms

says Simon Aumônier, principal partner at Environmental Resources Management (ERM)

 So, if you go out and buy specific containers to start your bring you own lifestyle change, then again we question are you really helping to lower your carbon footprint and reducing the use of plastics.  What happens to these new containers if you cannot afford to continue visiting the ‘bring your own’ shops or you move and do not have one local to you?  We suggest they sit in your cupboard for a few months or years and then in time they get binned, where they end up in landfill or our oceans.

Using glass, wood or metal containers has a positive impact on reducing the use of plastics altogether however it is also important to remember that they are heavy and emissions-intensive to make and transport – so again, you need to re-use them many, many times to really gain the environmental benefit from them.

And then there’s processing. Those jars of dry beans and other ingredients are light to transport and easy to store but require home cooking. Aumônier points to chickpeas. Buying them dry saves on transport as they are lighter but soaking them and cooking them at home is less efficient than when done on a mass scale by experts.

If you cook it in a saucepan with too much water and you over boil and throw some away, you’re almost certain to be more impactful on the environment than if you bought canned chickpeas in the first place

says Simon Aumônier, principal partner at Environmental Resources Management (ERM)
Conclusion

Like most things in life, you must find a natural balance.  These stores can help us all become more sustainable and reduce our dependence on single use plastic.  However, as we discussed, travelling 20 miles in your SUV to get 500g of flour is not and you are probably doing more harm than good.

Find your balance – We’d love to hear if you have made the change to Bring your own container shops, do you solely use them or do you have a balance between Bring your own and your local supermarket?  Share your thoughts and ideas with us, via our social media or email us @ save@thecostreductioncompany.co.uk or call us on 01491 637377.


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