I know too much about the state of our environment to shop comfortably at grocery stores. I can’t help but wince when I notice how many of us mindlessly reach for plastic bags to wrap everything, and I mean everything —even items like bananas and onions that don’t need it. It’s happening every day in countless markets around the world, it’s no wonder our oceans and land is drowning in garbage.
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Thankfully, there are zero-waste grocery stores cropping up in Australia, the United States, Europe and now Canada. The question now is not whether they will show up in Asia, but when?
According to the study, “Stemming the Tide," 60% of plastic pollution in oceans comes from only five countries: China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. They collectively contribute around eight million tons of plastics in oceans each year.
Brianne Miller, co-founder of Canada’s soon-to-be first zero-waste grocery store is asking customers to bring their own containers or reusable bags to carry their purchases. As a marine biologist, Miller saw how much of what ended up in oceans came from our food consumption.
“A lot of the species I was studying were impacted by different aspects of our food system,” she said. “So plastic pollution is one thing, but also habitat degradation, agricultural run-off, pesticides and fertilizers, shipping, noise.”
Unless immediate steps are taken in Asia, such as eliminating wasteful plastic use and encouraging practices like zero-waste shopping trips, plastic consumption in the region will increase by an alarming 80% in 2025. Moreover, global production of plastic has increased each year to as much as 4% between 2012 and 2013.
At Canada’s zero-waste market, visitors line up along the counter filled with large glass jars filled with locally-sourced and ethically-made dried mangoes, nuts, chocolates, oats, soaps among others. Nothing comes prepackaged. The items are chosen, then weighed on an electronic scale that neutralizes the weight of the container.
One of those who lined up was ocean scientist Kyle Gillespie who studied coral reefs and worked with small fishing villages in the central Philippines. “The amount of plastic that you see just covering every nook and cranny in some places of coral reefs and see animals carrying around pieces of plastic is totally shocking,” Gillespie says.
Shopping in a waste-free grocery market isn’t much different from the conventional grocery store experience. It takes minimal planning to prepare containers, and a few minutes longer at the cash register for items to be weighed. When the store opens in the fall, it will feature a clean design. It will also implement reduced packaging from suppliers, bike racks, and recycled materials as furnishings, paperless receipts and “ugly” vegetables that don’t make the cut at other supermarkets.
A zero-waste shopping experience is possible now even without the presence of waste-free markets in the neighborhood. Save those plastic bags and reusable containers that would normally end up in the waste bin and bring them along your next shopping trip. In our 21st century lifestyle, generating waste is difficult to avoid unless we’re mindful of our complacent behaviors and take steps to minimize the impact on our environment.
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Eric Tsai