In­side Sin­ga­pore’s first-ever zero-waste store

Sin­ga­pore’s first zero-waste store is help­ing cul­ti­vate the next gen­er­a­tion of eco-con­scious cit­i­zens amid a sea of South­east Asian plas­tic pol­lu­tion

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - Cristyn Lloyd

IN AN Un­packt store, there is no plas­tic pack­ag­ing in sight – in­stead, the walls are lined with glass dis­pensers. Jars and tubs are filled with pas­tas, nuts, legumes, oils and grains in splashes of pale yel­lows, pur­ples, greens, grays. Cus­tomers bring and fill their own con­tain­ers, which are then weighed at check­out.

Un­packt is Sin­ga­pore’s first zero-waste store. While trash con­tin­ues to pile high in land­fills across South­east Asia, home to some of the worst cul­prits of ma­rine plas­tic pol­lu­tion, this month’s open­ing of Florence Tay and Jeff Lams’ store rep­re­sents a step for­ward in the city-state’s on­go­ing pledge to even­tu­ally be­come a zero-waste na­tion. Out of 815,000 tonnes of plas­tic waste gen­er­ated in Sin­ga­pore in 2016, only 6% was re­cy­cled, ac­cord­ing to the city-state’s Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Agency.

While in re­cent years es­tab­lish­ments in Sin­ga­pore have be­gun to em­brace more eco-friendly prac­tices – such as ban­ning sin­gle-use plas­tic – the zero-waste con­cept of Un­packt does away with the need to gen­er­ate trash in the first place, largely elim­i­nat­ing the need for re­cy­cling at all. When the pack­ag­ing fac­tor is re­moved, prices drop an av­er­age of 5%, ac­cord­ing to Tay – which also re­sults in less food wastage since cus­tomers choose the quan­tity of every­thing they buy.

This gem of a neigh­bour­hood gro­cer in the res­i­den­tial town of Ang Mo Kio hopes to build a fam­ily-friendly com­mu­nity vibe that ap­peals to ev­ery­day Sin­ga­pore­ans – and dis­pel the myth that eco-life­styles are re­served for the wealthy and those with time to spare. “We en­cour­age the shop­pers to sit down and ex­change their ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences on zero-waste life­styles,” says Tay. “Hope­fully, if they are shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence, we can en­cour­age each other.”

In help­ing cus­tomers re­alise the ease of zero-waste shop­ping, they aim to con­vert the un­con­verted and change long-formed habits, sup­ply­ing not just ed­i­bles but also an as­sort­ment of eco-friendly house­hold items, from clean­ing sup­plies to toi­letries and beauty prod­ucts.

“We also have peo­ple who are not so on the eco-friendly side,” says Tay. “They shop with us and are be­ing per­suaded by the fresh­ness of the prod­ucts, the qual­ity and the pric­ing. We ac­tu­ally have them re­fer­ring their friends to shop with us, which is a good sign.”

Sin­ga­porean es­tab­lish­ments’ slow awak­en­ing to al­ter­na­tive eco-life­styles comes in re­sponse to a ris­ing de­mand from con­sumers – a grow­ing con­scious­ness Un­packt hopes to cul­ti­vate, while per­suad­ing sup­pli­ers that there is a mar­ket for pack­age­less prod­ucts. But chang­ing shop­pers’ habits is no easy task.

“They are con­scious of the pack­ag­ing is­sue and plas­tic pol­lu­tion,” says Tay. “But prob­a­bly it will still take time for them to build the habit… We be­lieve that the next gen­er­a­tion will be more aware.” —

“We en­cour­age the shop­pers to sit down and share their ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences on zero-waste life­styles”

Un­packt takes bulk health food shop­ping to the next level with its zero-wastepack­age­less con­cept

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