This store teaches people how to live a waste-free life (Video)


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Lauren Singer hasn't thrown anything in the trash for four years. By opting for goods that are recyclable, reusable, or compostable, the New Yorker has sworn off landfill altogether. Now, she wants you to do the same.

Singer, along with friend and fellow zero-waste devotee Daniel Silverstein, will open the first zero-waste lifestyle store in NYC (and possibly the entire country), next month. The pop-up shop, Package Free, will live in Williamsburg from May 1 to July, stocking eco-friendly alternatives to any single-use item you can think of: reusable tote bags, compostable toothbrushes, refillable dental floss, natural beauty products in bulk, even skateboards made from ocean plastic. It takes the zero-waste grocery store concept that's gaining popularity in Europe a step further by tackling all the other stuff that we buy that's needlessly wrapped in plastic.

"We think of it less as a lifestyle store and more as a 'change your lifestyle' store. We want to show that sustainable, zero-waste living is simple, cost-effective, and sexy," says Singer. "We want everyone who comes in to not just buy products but to get involved in this community we're trying to build."

A community of New Yorkers equipped with totes in one hand and DIY beauty products in the other? Sounds pretty perfect to us.

Zero waste” is a lifestyle that embraces minimalism; rejects the ubiquitous disposable items that are everywhere in our society; challenges mainstream consumerism; and encourages people to come up with alternative reusable solutions to everyday life. In the context of the articles I write, “waste” refers to municipal solid waste (MSW) – the kind of trash that gets hauled to landfills. This includes recycling.

Food provides sustenance, but unfortunately it also generates trash, especially if the majority of food comes from a grocery store. While packaging is helpful and often necessary for keeping food fresh, uncontaminated, and easy to transport, anyone wanting to reduce their household trash knows what a nightmare it is to come home with thin plastic produce bags that get thrown out as soon as fruit meets the fruit bowl.

It is possible to reduce your ‘shopping footprint,’ but it requires much more organization and forethought than conventional shopping. (You'll be surprised to realize how ingrained your shopping habits are.) Arrive at the store prepared, with the right equipment, and be ready to get some strange looks, but you’ll thank yourself for it when you get home.

1. Buy reusable cotton produce bags and use them to buy fruits and vegetables.Always choose loose varieties. If you run out of bags, keep produce loose in the shopping cart.

2. Take large glass jars or other reusable containers to the store. Use these wherever an item needs to be weighed. The employee can tare the jar on the scale before filling with whatever cheese, olives, fish, sandwich meat, or deli products you want. Jars with screw-top lids are handy for wet foods.

3. Keep your phone handy in order to record container weights if you’re in a bulk food store. Weigh prior to filling, then refer to your list in order to record the accurate price.

4. Use a solid cloth bag to buy bread and dry bulk items. You can buy these online in various sizes, or use a small pillowcase. Bea Johnson of the Zero Waste Home blog and book recommends washable wax crayons for writing the product code on the bag.

5. Avoid little things that usually end up in the trash, such as twist-ties, bread tags, plastic code stickers, receipts, and paper lists.

6. Use several large canvas tote bags or a sturdy bin with handles to take your food home. Never accept plastic grocery bags, even if you forget your totes. Author Madeleine Somerville of “All You Need Is Less” proposes the following solution to forgetfulness:

“Take your purchases without. The reason is that this experience will be so horrific, and so infuriating, and so utterly humiliating as you load your purchases one by one into the grocery cart with the entire line-up behind you watching in bemused confusion, that it will be forever burned into your psyche… and mark my words, you will remember your cloth bags.”

7. Stash your shopping kit in the car after putting away the groceries so that you never find yourself in that situation, even when making spontaneous purchases. Put them on the front seat so you notice them when leaving the car. Keep a reusable bag in your purse, glove box, backpack or bicycle saddlebag.

8. If you must buy a pre-packaged item, always choose recyclable packaging made of glass, metal, or paper over lower-grade plastic packaging. Keep in mind that plastic is never truly recycled, but rather gets ‘downcycled’ into a lesser form of itself until eventually it ends up landfill; other materials, however, maintain their integrity through recycling. If you do end up using a plastic bag, rinse and reuse.

9. Be prepared to refuse items based on packaging. This can be hard, especially if you’re craving whatever comes on a plastic-wrapped Styrofoam tray, but that whole packaging combo is a bad idea – and a whole lot of unnecessary trash in your house once that craving is satisfied.

10. All of this is made easier by shopping at stores that support zero waste practices, i.e. bulk food stores that allow reusable containers. Usually smaller, privately owned, local companies are more flexible than chain stores. Seek out alternative sources of food, such as CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares for produce and grains.

Good luck!

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