Refill Grocers are Going Mainstream

This trend is here to stay.

Shoppers at a zero-waste market.

(Monkey Business Images /

Refill shops have been around for a decade but the first stores were small and appealed to a niche market of people who wanted to ditch plastic packaging and be more environmentally friendly. These zero-waste grocery stores allowed people to bring in their own refillable containers to buy grains and staples stored in large bins.

While these small shops are common in Europe and the US, they have recently gone from being trendy to being  very mainstream. That’s because the UK supermarket giant ASDA rolled out its own chain of sustainable refill shops, according to The Grocer.

These refill stores offer the usual bins and have many household brands without the excessive packaging including Kellogg, Yorkshire Tea, and Nestlé. Even Unilever and P&G shampoos and soaps are represented.

“We hope the sheer variety offered across our range of 100 branded and own-label loose products, plus bringing together several simple ways for customers to reduce, reuse or recycle at home,” ASDA director of commercial sustainability Susan Thomas told The Grocer.

Are zero-waste stores eco-friendly?
Cutting back on single-use plastics is a big win for the planet. While many people make an effort to recycle. But according to Greenpeace, while the government of the UK claims that 50 percent of household plastics is being recycled, over half of that is being sent abroad to other countries. There is no way to know how much is actually being recycled.

The best way to ensure that plastic doesn’t end up incinerated, in landfills, or in the oceans, is not to use it in the first place. That’s where refill shops can help.

Many of these shops stock products from brands that are also being ethical about selling sustainably sourced and local  products – which helps reduce your carbon footprint –, according to Country and Townhouse.  Only buying the amount of food that you actually need will also help cut down on food waste and the environmental cost of food production.

What do you need to shop in a refill market?
Going to a refill store isn’t your typical grocery shopping experience. That’s because you have to BYOB your own bottles, containers and shopping bags.

You weigh your container in the store (there is usually a print-out label that you adhere to your container), fill it up with the products you wish to purchase, and then reweigh the container when you are ready to pay.

In some stores, you can select the product from a screen at the checkout and print out labels but at less high-tech stores, you will have to write down the product numbers so that the cashier knows what to charge you for.

While some refill shops will sell you containers to use, that defeats the purpose of reusing something you already have and not creating waste. So BYOB to a local zero-waste market and take positive actions to help reduce plastic pollution.

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