It’s no secret that our society’s trash problem is out of control. Americans are generating a staggering 254 million tons of garbage a year, triple what we were producing 70 years ago due largely to the overproduction and overconsumption of plastic. Since 1960, plastic production for packaging and disposable products has rapidly increased and recycling efforts are not doing much to counteract this explosion. A whopping 80% of the things Americans throw in the trash could have been recycled but instead will contribute to soil pollution and greenhouse gas emissions produced by the country’s 2,000 landfills. The trash is not being contained only to the landfills either with over 100,000 marine animals dying annually from plastic entanglement and ingestion, These images of sea turtles tangled in trash and ocean dead zones the size of New Jersey are becoming widespread through news media, documentaries, and social media, giving people an up close look at the undeniable effects and extent of the trash produced by modern commercialism.
From production to packaging to transportation, manufacturing and retail industries are continuing to produce waste at an unprecedented level and people are taking note and demanding change. Individuals are becoming increasingly committed to shopping with intention and holding businesses accountable by using the power of voting with their dollar. Some industries have recognized this collective action gaining momentum and have made strides in meeting consumer demand and reducing waste while others are still largely ignoring the amount of waste involved in the sale of food products and household goods. In order to call attention to this destructive system, the concept of Zero Waste was coined in 1995 by Dr. Daniel Knapp of Berkely, CA and has since become a goal for local, national, and international businesses and organizations as well as a popular social movement. The philosophy focuses on keeping items out of landfills by reducing, resusing, recycling, and composting.
A growing number of bulk-only shops are implementing the concept of zero waste by turning a neglected corner of the grocery store into an establishment all its own. Bulk shopping is not a new concept but it is one that has been making a comeback in recent years. Several generations ago, it was the norm to take your own containers to a small grocer, fill them with dry goods from burlap sacks, and stock your pantry. Families would also purchase high quality household items and have them repaired when broken. These concepts were slowly replaced by convenient, disposable packaging, single use plastic items, and low-quality, disposable goods which became the status quo for consumers over the past several decades. The shift back to quality, package free goods is now returning throughout the world, led by increasing awareness of the environmental impact that the overuse of plastic is having on our planet. Research, news, and media showcasing the life of plastic, from production, to consumption, to disposal into landfills are on the rise, informing the public of the lasting, destructive effect of this non-biodegradable material on our natural world.
The zero waste bulk store is a concept that began in Europe and is now rapidly spreading throughout the world as a way for individuals to combat the destructive effects of the single use plastics and plastic packaging that are commonplace in a traditional grocery store. The concept is a store in which customers bring their own empty containers such as glass jars or reusable bags and fill them with the dry foods or bulk liquids, allowing them to stock their pantry without consuming any disposable packaging or purchasing more of an item than they need. The customer pays by weight for each item, and the weight of their container is deducted from the amount they pay for each product. In this way, the community can more easily create less waste, support local, and save money in the process. The time for simple, slower living, minimalism, and individual commitment to social and environmental responsibility is now as we take the necessary steps to improve our planet and future.