Package free: A global lifestyle trend

From a loaf of bread to a cling wrapped parcel of “fresh” produce, almost everything around us comes with or in plastic. And although the produce enveloped in this synthetic film does have a purpose and expiry date… that plastic doesn’t.

Against the backdrop of environmental degradation, a global trend geared to tackle our obsession with plastic – and the resultant plastic pollution  – has emerged. Enter stage left: the zero-waste lifestyle movement.

The rise of zero waste

Recycling alone is not the ultimate solution to our plastic problems. Let’s think about certain types of plastic that cannot be easily recycled: instead of being appropriately reused, these plastics end up over-polluting landfills, washing up on shorelines, or suffocating wildlife. This is why it is vital to reduce our waste and plastic consumption, and re-use whenever possible. By embracing all three R’s in the popular mantra ‘Reduce. Reuse. Recycle’, we can create a greener future. This is the motive behind the trending zero-waste lifestyle movement or zero-waste movement.

Popularised by the likes of Bea Johnson, through her book Zero Waste Home, and Lauren Singer, through her blog Trash is for Tossers, the zero-waste movement has been gaining momentum over recent years. This movement involves taking a stand against unnecessary waste by adopting a minimalist lifestyle. So if this is an avenue you might be exploring, the first nudge in the right direction would be considering how you shop. More specifically, what packaging are you supporting when purchasing your groceries?

Going back to our roots

The notion of package-free shopping was not something that was created by the founders of the zero-waste movement. Rather, it was a universal tradition that existed until the invention of the first synthetic polymer in 1869.

From the sprawling markets in ancient Greece, to the crowded bazaars of the middle east, our ancestors’ shopping experiences did not include pre-packaged food. Some of our elders today may still be able to tell tales about the times before plastic; when they purchased milk and vegetables directly from a farmer, or when they would carry their goods home in wheelbarrows or make-shift, organic containers like tusks and tortoise shells.

Whatever the instance, the reality is that we were never as reliant on plastic packaging as we have become and so the idea of package-free shopping is not a new one. The zero-waste movement  simply aims to remind us of a way of life that humans experienced as the norm.

Did you know: The inventor of the first synthetic polymer, John Wesley Hyatt, was motivated by the $10,000 lumpsum offered by a New York firm to the first person who could provide an alternative to ivory billiard balls.

Happy Earth People Red Lentil & Chickpea Pasta at Nude Foods Cape Town

Why choose package free?

The zero-waste, package-free movement does not owe its popularity to the fact that it fits in well with the global trend of minimalism, or that it may invoke a nostalgic longing for the “good ole days”. Its popularity is owed to those conscientious consumers who are determined to do their part in encouraging eco-friendly lifestyles.

Consumers across the globe are acutely aware of the ramifications that imperishable waste holds for the environment. As such, they are making an effort to be more sustainable. Shopping from package-free or naked shops (many of which stock only sustainably sourced produce) is a way of doing this.

Package-free shops vs retail shops

Package-free shops aim to be an alternative and a challenge to large retailers. For example: the idea behind the German store “The Original Unverpackt” emerged from founder Melina Glimbovski’s discontent with the unnecessary packaging and waste she had seen in the retail industry.

In realising an increase in consumer concerns for the environment, retailers are pulling out their paper bags in support of package-free shopping. Many have taken to reducing plastic usage and sourcing sustainable products. It would seem, then, that the zero waste lifestyle movement is creating significant waves in local and global arenas.

How can you get involved?

Join the conversation

Social media is a treasure trove for “zero waste lifestylers”. Whether you are new to the movement or looking for fresh ideas, you will find something useful on social media.

For starters, the “zero-waste lifestyler” is a global trend on Instagram and you can follow the likes of its pioneers, Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer for inspiration and tips. Additionally, Pinterest contains fresh ideas on how to live waste-free as well as informative tutorials regarding food storage and composting.

You can also follow and engage with blogs containing amazing stories and advice from people living waste-free. Alternatively, why not create your own blog, and document your waste-free journey?

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