Canadian consumers could easily become more waste-conscious in coming years as the zero-waste markets trend spreads across the country.
Vancouver’s first zero-waste grocery store, Nada, opened its doors in East Vancouver in June 2018, and now more zero-waste stores are popping up all over Canada.
"There's absolutely a huge demand for this type of shopping," Brianne Miller, founder and CEO of Nada told the Canadian Press. Publicly-raised funds helped Nada establish its storefront and showed that the community was invested in the idea.
Almost everything at Nada is available without plastic or packaging, in bulk. Customers bring their own reusable containers and purchase products according to weight.
Since opening, Miller has added a café to her shop to sell dishes made from unsold produce that would otherwise have gone to waste.
The zero-waste movement seems to be catching. On top of Nada in Vancouver, there’s Nu in Ottawa and Zero Waste Bulk in Waterloo. Canary Refillery and Zero Waste Market is set to open in February in Calgary, and Toronto’s first zero-waste market, Unboxed Market, is also coming soon.
And the trend doesn’t just apply to grocery stores. The Soap Dispensary and Kitchen Staples in Vancouver, for instance, sells bulk and packaging-free beauty and household products, as well as food.
This is a welcomed trend for environmentally-savvy consumers.
“We’ve got a massive plastic packaging problem,” Barb Hetherington, a board member for Zero Waste Canada, told Global Citizen. “We’ve got so much packaging in the world that our recycling systems can’t handle it.”
The average person in North America or Western Europe consumes about 100 kilograms of plastic, and the bulk of that is due to packaging, according to Zero Waste Canada.
Hetherington argues that the zero-waste shopping experience not only reduces the amount of packaging that has to be manufactured and recycled, but because many of the stores sell in bulk, shoppers can purchase only what they need, which can help decrease food waste too.
A recent report by Second Harvest noted that Canadians waste 58% of all food produced in the country, so this is certainly an added bonus.
Hetherington lives in Gibsons, BC, where she said she often has the option to bring containers for her shopping needs, whether it’s a zero-waste store or not.
“I’ve even taken pillow cases to buy my bread at the local public market,” she said.
She admits that this kind of conscious shopping requires a little more organization, as some point to lack of convenience as a deterrent for this movement, but “once you get a routine… there’s really nothing to it,” she said.
Initiatives like zero-waste markets are beneficial and great for cutting down the overall waste in the country, but Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence, cautions that this isn’t enough.
Environmental Defence, an environmental action organization, reported that 90% of plastics finish by being incinerated or else make it to landfills or end up in water or on the land in Canada, and less than 11% of all plastics in the country are recycled.
“[The stores] show that we don’t need all this plastic and I think that’s helpful,” Brooks told Global Citizen. “But of course it’s a limited solution…We need to change what normal behaviour is.”
That is why the organization is calling on the government to act on the plastic waste issue in Canada. Their plastics declaration outlines the actions they want to the government to take, including reducing single-use plastics, banning harmful plastics and increasing plastics standards.
“[It's a loss] if we think that a couple of zero-waste grocery stores is the solution to the problem,” he said.
There are also challenges to opening stores like this, of course. Suppliers need to be willing to work with the no-waste criteria set by the stores, which can be difficult in the more remote areas of the country.
Still, Miller plans to work around the obstacles and open more stores like Nada in BC, and more businesses seem to be embracing the movement every year.
This is part of a global movement of businesses ditching plastics and packaging around the world — there’s Earth.Food.Love in Devon, Bulk Market in London and LØS Market in Copenhagen — and could help offset the amount of waste and plastics pollution produced worldwide.