This week, a new location of the Ekoplaza grocery chain opened its doors in Amsterdam. It's a pretty standard supermarket except that is has one totally new feature. In one of the store’s aisles, plastic is absolutely off-limits. According to The Washington Post, that means the aisle's over 700 items are stored in glass, metal, cardboard, or biofilm, which is plant-based and can be composted. Pretty amazing, right?
Of course, the idea of limited-waste grocery stores isn't completely new. There are options to shop at farmers' markets and co-ops, where you can take home your food purchases in your own re-usable containers and bulk bags. Other local grocery stores like The Fillery in Brooklyn, NY; In.gredients in Austin,TX; and The Zero Market in Aurora, CO sell grains, oils, and dairy, and household goods in bulk. These places, which are few and far between, also encourage shoppers to bring their own bags and container and often provide compostable alternatives for those who may have accidentally left their re-usable bags at home (as so many of us often do).
Though the concept and goals might be similar, there are a couple of key differences between these small no-waste stores and Ekoplaza's no-plastic aisle. Ekoplaza seems to offer what feels closer to a traditional grocery shopping experience since customers can buy pre-packages items right of the shelves without having to worry about filling their own containers. Because of this, the selection is much larger than just bulk grains and oils. The Washington Post reports that the new location's plastic-free aisle offers rice, milk, chocolate, yogurt, fruits, vegetables, sauces, meat, and more.
Ekoplaza's other main different from co-ops, farmers markets, and small no-waste stores is that it's a grocery chain. Having one aisle in an established supermarket chain be plastic-free could help more people transition into no-waste shopping. We've seen this done on a much smaller scale at stateside. chains like Whole Foods and The Fresh Market. Select locations of these chains have bulk aisles where customers can buy dry goods in the amount they want and even sometimes fill their own containers from home, depending on the location.
Even before Ekoplaza's plastic-free aisle, Europe has been leading the charge on the no-waste grocery model. According to bepakt, an index of zero-waste and packaging-free supermarkets around the world, these stores are all over the continent. Unpackaged, a shop with three locations in London, even helps others zero-waste stores get set up. This lower-waste grocery shopping experience will continue expand in Europe with Ekoplaza promising to bring no-plastic aisles to every one of its 74 locations in the Netherlands by the end of 2018 and with Prime Minister Theresa May's recent proposal to go plastic-free in British supermarkets.
For a while, we've been sensing that grocery shopping as we know it is changing. However, we didn't necessarily think that it was shifting in the direction of zero-waste and plastic-free stores. As excited as we are at the idea of this transition, it's clear that it's happening faster in some places than in others. While we wait for our most convenient and affordable grocery chains to follow in Ekoplaza's footsteps, we'll just have to be on the look out limited-waste shops near us and try a little bit harder to remember our re-usable shopping bags.