Packing plastic: The rise of zero-waste shopping

Zero-waste shop, The Good Neighbour, in Dundrum . Image courtesy of The Good Neighbour

Waste probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your local grocery store. 

As you coast through its aisles, fixated on convenience and choice, the harsh reality is easy to forget – our weekly shopping runs are wasteful endeavours.

The plastic packaging our food comes in is a nasty ecological sore. Thankfully, the solution is easy: come prepared with alternative/reusable packaging options.

The Good Neighbour in Dundrum is one example of a business that is following the increasingly popular zero-waste model, designed to focus purely on reducing the amount of plastic waste.

“The concept is simple – bring your own container, and we weigh it in-store and deduct the weight of your container, so you are only charged on whatever food you take home,” says Jess Dollinger, the owner of The Good Neighbour.

The zero-waste shop initially opened its doors to the public in December 2019, which happened to be just four months before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The interior of The Good Neighbour, with containers of rice and grains on display. Image courtesy of The Good Neighbour

According to Dollinger, The Good Neighbour was forced to “pivot” in order to deal with the impact of the pandemic. 

“We didn’t originally offer the option for customers to place orders, but we now offer orders for delivery and collection. Offering that service has really helped the business due to the high volumes of people quarantining,” Dollinger said.

“We’ve also got a great community of customers who want to make sure the shop thrives, so we’ve been very lucky throughout the pandemic,” she continued.

The shop offers over 300 bulk goods including grains, fruit and veg, spices, and several cleaning products – all package free.

“Our mission is to be as organic and plastic-free as possible. At this point, around 60% of our products are organic, and we’re constantly working on increasing our organic offering to customers,” Dollinger stated.

It’s “crucial for the industry”, says Dollinger, that her shop sells affordable products, as there’s a perception that choosing to live a zero-waste lifestyle is exorbitant for the everyday consumer.

“I think that we’ll eventually see a zero-waste shop in every area of Dublin”

Jess Dollinger

The Good Neighbour works alongside multiple local growers and producers to stock as much Irish produce as possible.

“Wherever possible we source locally. Unfortunately, a lot of things simply can’t be grown here, but where we can we purchase from local growers and suppliers.

“We’ll continue to support local farmers and produce, particularly throughout the pandemic,” Dollinger says. In recent years, climate change awareness has increased, and consumer habits have shifted to reflect that.

In Ireland, some companies are responding to that change with supermarkets taking action to reduce packaging and waste. Vegan and vegetarian sections have increased in size, and a lot of single-use coffee cups are now compostable.

Now, more and more people are choosing to live a zero-waste lifestyle. 

Currently, there are eight zero-waste shops open for business in Dublin alone. The majority of these shops opened within the last two years.

“I stumbled across my first zero-waste [shop] when I was living in the UK. When I returned to Dublin, I noticed that several [zero-waste] shops began popping up across the city,” says Orla Browne, an environmental activist and frequent zero-waste customer.

“Living a zero-waste lifestyle is becoming more fashionable than ever before”

Orla Browne

Although the attitudes towards an eco-friendly lifestyle for many has changed, Ireland still currently produces the highest volume of plastic waste per person in the EU at 57 kilos per capita, which is considerably more than the EU average of 33 kilos per capita.

“Since returning home, I have noticed a change in attitude towards these issues, but you only must observe the stats to see how far behind we are in comparison to the rest of Europe.

“To contribute to the greater good, embarking on a zero-waste lifestyle by reducing small amounts of plastic in your household is a start,” Browne added.

However, Browne feels like we are still far off when it comes to acting on reducing plastic waste.

“The stats show that Ireland is well behind when it comes to dealing with environmental issues. This is something we as a nation should be wary of.

“I think people hesitate to go zero-waste because they are afraid that other [zero-waste] advocates will judge them if they don’t fully commit at all times.

“However, it’s not true. I found encouragement and the will to try harder by surrounding myself with like-minded people,” says Browne.

The zero-waste movement has arrived and the greater availability of this retail option to all Irish shoppers will allow it to become the norm.

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