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A reuse revolution

This online shop has closed the loop and created a faff-free, circular way to buy organic
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A reuse revolution at Zero Waste Bulk Foods

This article first appeared in our Earth Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 22 April 2024. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Refills are the future of sustainable shopping, though they’re not always a convenient way to buy your food.

‘I love refill shopping but I find the process of taking containers to the shop a real faff’, admits Mitchell Platt, founder of Zero Waste Bulk Foods. ‘After a short stint working in a local shop I learnt that behind the scenes is just as complex and wasteful – so many spillages! – so I set up an online store to make refilling easy.’

Buy, return, repeat

Zero Waste Bulk Foods is an online shop with a wide range of products, from the bestselling Organic Ancient Grain British Pasta and Organic English Breakfast Tea to Organic Dark Chocolate Buttons and organic dried fruit and nuts.

What makes this shop different is the closed-loop system at its heart; all the goods come in packaging that can be returned, washed and reused. ‘This was the reason I set up the business’, Mitchell shares; ‘otherwise, we’re just another organic whole foods business littering the world.’

When an order is placed online, the groceries arrive at your door in cotton and jute bags, which have been specifically designed for Zero Waste Bulk Foods customers, with a pre-paid returns label.

‘What makes the packaging unique is how easy it is to return’, Mitchell tells us; ‘small orders can be returned in the post box!’ The ease of the process is underscored by an excellent 90% bag return rate.

The problems with packaging

Mitchell’s focus on circularity stemmed from concerns about our current linear model of production, consumption and disposal. ‘It’s fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t value all the components in the supply chain’, Mitchell explains. ‘This creates an enormous burden on the environment – including waste and the carbon required to produce everything new.’

Recycling is of course a better option than landfill or incineration, but processing waste back into usable materials also creates lots of carbon.

Some materials – such as plastic – can never be recycled back to their original quality.

‘Paper and glass are good packaging materials in some cases’, Mitchell accepts, ‘but they are prone to breaking so I don’t think they are the best materials for groceries. However it’s packaged, environmentally the worst case scenario is that food is spoiled, because there is so much more carbon in food production than in its packaging.’

Organic produce

Unlike many companies that are making efforts to eliminate single-use packaging from their supply chain, Mitchell pays just as much attention to what’s inside the bags.

The produce available from Zero Waste Bulk Foods is all organic, sourced as locally as possible from over 70 different suppliers.

Mitchell also makes every effort to buy from co-op wholesalers that share his passion for sustainable and ethical products.

‘Organic certification is imperative to us; it gives customers confidence in what they are buying’, Mitchell explains. ‘As an online business it’s more challenging to build that trust. We’re also very proud to be certified by the Soil Association and support all the amazing projects it is involved with.’

A fairer food system

As more people turn to refills and zero-waste shops continue to focus on making the process more convenient, is there a place for supermarkets in the future?

‘For the most stable and sustainable future, we need more diversity at every stage of our food system – from soil to plate’, Mitchell says. ‘I believe there is a place for some bigger players; what is essential is that they adopt a transparent and circular model.’

Mitchell cautions that economies of scale can have devastating effects; ‘Personally, I believe some food is too cheap and that the true cost is unfairly shouldered by communities in the Global South’, Mitchell tells us. ‘If this cost were made clearer, I believe those who could afford to would pay more. We don’t have to cast our minds back too far to a time when a much higher proportion of take home pay was spent on subsistence and it didn’t bring the economy to its knees! That said, if food does become more costly it would disproportionately affect those on lower incomes, so there would need to be some government intervention to avoid a downward spiral into further poverty.’

When it comes to making good quality, low-impact food affordable to everyone, Mitchell suggests subsidising organic and regenerative farming and banning speculative trading on crop futures.

‘Food waste should also be taxed’, Mitchell says. ‘We’re about to launch our new, revolutionary reusable pack, which has been years in the making. With EPR legislation just around the corner – which will tax single-use packaging – we’re confident we have a great solution to launch a reuse revolution!’

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