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Change the way you shop: Discover London’s first zero waste food market

Eating & Drinking
Long read

Georgina Wilson-Powell

25 July 2017

Talk about retail therapy. If you despair at the pile of plastic that’s immediately created when you get home from the supermarket, then it’s time to rethink the way you shop and head to new zero waste food market, Bulk Market.

London will have its first zero waste food market come November in Hackney, with a pop up zero waste mini supermarket running from August for three months to introduce the idea that, really when it comes to shopping, all you need is a bit of planning rather than a lot of plastic.

It’s time we rethink what we consider to be dirty or healthy, says Ingrid Caldironi, CEO and founder of Bulk Market.

“We need to change the perception of what is clean and acceptable. For example our salad and veggies grow in the dirt, so they need to be washed anyway, they don’t need to be in plastic.”

A generational change in how we shop, eat and cook has separated us from the reality of real food. With Bulk Market, Caldironi wants to remind people what fresh food looks like. It needs to be bought every couple of days, it doesn’t need covering in plastic if it’s going to be bought locally, cooked and used and that’s how it should be. 

“With convenience people get lazy and they get bad food and they forget how to cook and don’t have a connection with their food anymore. I’m not against convenience but it’s a trade off, you need to think about what it does for your life,” says Caldironi. “Our grandparents were quite used to shopping like this, or taking home things wrapped in paper and it was much more sustainable.”

For every £50 spent in a supermarket, £8 of that cost will be paying for the plastic wrapping needed to transport and handle items over long distances. Shopping locally doesn't just save waste, it can work out cheaper too.

Zero waste shopping

With a zero waste store, Caldironi is tackling both food and plastic waste (Britain only recycles on average 43% of its plastic waste, which falls short of the EU target of 50%), shopping her way, reduces both massively. Dry food can be bought and stored in glass jars, steel boxes or in paper (or plastic) and if you have a way of composting, you can get your food waste down to practically nothing.

Bulk Market will sell over 300 brandless products, both fresh and dried products will be weighed out according to what you need and it will also sell natural and organic non-food products. Want a tiny slice of cheese or just two locally laid, farm fresh eggs? No problem. Just bring something to take them home in (but don’t panic because there will also be steel boxes to buy - there’s no plastic anywhere in the store).

"If we’re all in the same community and we can do away with a lot of packaging. People can deliver by bike or we can pick up small packages to sell in the shop, things are fresh and coming locally"

Caldironi was inspired by her own journey into wanting to use less plastic, create less waste and buy better.

“I make lots of stuff myself like shampoo and it’s difficult to find the organic produce or unpackaged ingredients that I wanted in London. I wanted to create a place that was healthy and that sells food that’s traceable back to a single place and there’s no pesticides or GM. Bulk is about being local, organic, fresh and package free,” she explains.

Zero Waste Market Pebble Magazine3

Sick of recycling? Don't take it home in the first place

Unwrapping the supply chain

Keeping things local has been the key to getting Bulk Market off the ground. Hackney might be a hipster hell for some, but there’s no denying that the amount of locally supporting restaurants, community farms and start ups make it easier for ideas like Bulk Market to build on.

“I’ve found so many amazing suppliers in Hackney so I realised I needed to be there to support them and to make the supply chain shorter and easier,” she explains. “To keep things fresh, local and package free, the supply chain has to be as short as possible.”

Caldironi has found it’s not just about re-educating consumers to realise they need less plastic protection but also about looking at how suppliers’ concerns can be approached so they need to use less packaging from the start.

“If we’re all in the same community and we can do away with a lot of packaging. People can deliver by bike or we can pick up small packages to sell in the shop, things are fresh and coming locally. People then don’t need to go to supermarkets and buy bread from Yorkshire when they can get it from down the road,” she explains.

Grow Up Farm is working with us and I explained what I wanted to them, I wanted a salad supplier that didn’t use plastic so they’re going to supply everything in a big box and people can measure out their own portions.”

Zero Waste Market Pebble Magazine4

Go back to a more traditional way of shopping

Community over competition

This might all sound too good to be true for some, others will be wondering how much it costs. Caldironi wants Bulk Market to be about fixing the food system not entrenching a divide in terms of affordability. She’s working with a series of local community gardens and allotments who can sell her whatever surplus produce they have each week that she will sell on at next to nothing.

“While allotments aren’t sometimes allowed to sell produce, I’m looking at voucher schemes so they can swap their veg for other things in the shop and I’m looking at getting people involved in selling whatever they like to make – it could be fresh pasta or herbs they’ve grown. These things are then more affordable to buy because they’ve been produced close by,” she explains.

Once Bulk Market is in its permanent home on Chatsworth Road in Hackney from November, Caldironi has plans to create much more of a community hub where people can learn skills from growing their own veg to making their own shampoo. It will also have a nut grinder dispensing nut butter straight to the jar, a commercial-grade composting machine and a recycled container-greenhouse for DIY classes.

Just make sure you pack your refill containers.

Find Bulk Market in Dalston Junction from 26 August for its three month pop up soft launch.

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