Joining the zero waste club?

As today’s Irish Times highlights, a wave of Zero Waste shops and initiatives have sprouted around Ireland and Britain over the past two years, helped by popular campaigns against single-use plastics and a healthy media appetite for the topic. While many of the new initiatives have taken the form of small retail outlets, the bulk buying club model has also been adopted by those looking to go packaging-free, as with London’s Naked Larder.

For long-term members of bulk buying clubs and food co-ops, there’s nothing new in taking a minimal waste approach, though it’s certainly becoming easier now. The growing demand for plastic-free products – from loose teas to shampoo bars – is being clearly reflected in the inventories of our suppliers, giving members access to improved options.  

Yet the zero waste credentials of a given product are only one factor for consideration – alongside the environmental footprint of its production and transportation, sourcing issues and the ethics of the brand. Thus, an unwrapped soap may be ‘zero waste’ while still containing a raft of environmentally questionable palm oil derivatives.

And while well-heeled ‘zero wasters’ may be able to disregard cost and value for money as core considerations, for the rest of us these factors are inevitably front and centre. For many bulk buying clubs, run by and for their members, their defining purpose is affordability. This means working to bring the best organic and zero waste options within members’ budgets. Nevertheless, many members still face tough, imperfect choices along the way. The ‘most ethical’ option – even if clear cut – may well also be the most expensive.

That’s why I really value being part of a group that, rather than being a ‘zero waste club’, as such, is more of a fellow traveller. It’s a group that sees the choices members face as inherently complex and individual, where information sharing is welcomed but ultimate decisions are respected.

About this site

This site aims to encourage and support the setting up of further bulk buying clubs and small food co-ops in Ireland by sharing the experience of individuals who have operated a ‘pop-up wholefoods’ model over a number of years.