Eco-shopping with a conscience

Canvas tote bag? Check.

Empty clean containers? Check.

Reusable storage bags? Check.

I think I’m ready for my first introduction to a zero waste store. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to it. However, a few uncertainties begin to creep in.

Will the shop be brown and bland? Can I drop off my recyclables there? Will there be discarded vegetable peels and leaves turning into compost in a corner? Will I be pressured to buy a (gulp)… menstrual cup?

All those thoughts fade away into nothingness as I mount the steps towards the store occupying a space above Hock Choon Supermarket in Ampang, Selangor.

Shopping with a zero waste mindset is unfamiliar territory for me – and for most Malaysians too.

It sounds like a close relative of recycling waste but more hardcore. More of us are saying ‘no’ to plastic bags and plastic straws these days but probably less of us are embracing rechargeable batteries or reusable baby cloth diapers.

The idea of a zero waste lifestyle is simply to reduce the amount of waste that we throw out by avoiding single-use items, because although our rubbish goes to landfills and incinerators, 30,000 tonnes of waste a day in Malaysia does take a huge toll on the environment.

A BOLD MOVE

It’s a global issue but the term was virtually unheard of in this country three years ago until Claire Sancelot arrived on the scene and breathed life into something that nobody here had ventured to give a chance.

“I think we should stop calling it zero waste because it scares people. It seems too impossible, unreachable. It’s a new way of living but we have to. Our survival depends on it”, asserts the spirited Frenchwoman who has become the face of the zero waste movement, not only in Malaysia but also in Hong Kong where she resided before relocating to our shores in 2015 with her husband and children.

Sancelot advises those interested “to take it easy”.

Smiling, she elaborates: “Zero waste lifestyle is whatever you want it to be. The idea is to create the least waste as you can, so don’t put in your head tomorrow I’m gonna be zero waste, it’s not gonna be fun, you’re gonna stop right away because it’s too hard. Just one step at a time. It has to work with YOUR lifestyle, with who you are.”

Their belongings had barely been unpacked when the mother of three immediately set out to source for products in line with their green lifestyle. Setting up the Zero Waste Kuala Lumpur Facebook page was just the beginning.

Always happy to chat about her crusade, a casually chic Sancelot shares with me her initial struggles to find what she wanted for her family which were natural and organic products, available in bulk, where you could trust the suppliers.

Undeterred, the steely lady pushed forward into unchartered waters with a retail venture, convincing distributors that she wasn’t crazy to request 25kg of foods like organic oats and pumpkin seeds, unpackaged.

 

Granola is sold in bulk with tasting samples.
Granola is sold in bulk with tasting samples.

 

SOLID SOLUTIONS

“I opened The Hive in early 2016 in Bangsar. I was the only customer for a while, you can imagine! A store like this one didn’t exist,” recalls Sancelot who had zero retail business experience.

“You could go to the wet market and get some products, bring your own containers and bags. The wet market is awesome in many ways but trustability isn’t there, like it’s not organic. I lived in Hong Kong for 10 years so I’m very careful about food safety.”

A few more zero waste stores have since sprouted on the scene and just recently, The Hive launched a second outlet in Ampang in response to requests from customers, proving that demand does exist.

Just like the maiden store, this latest outlet offers a plethora of mostly unpackaged or plastic-free items ranging from dry foods and home products to toiletries and lifestyle pieces, a big leap forward from the mere 30 products that first sat on the shelves.

Like a mother proud of her child’s small achievements, Sancelot suddenly tells me excitedly: “We’re about to get organic baobab powder, organic spirulina, organic maca powder… they were heavily packaged when I arrived and now three years later, my God….they’re gonna be on our shelves in a couple of weeks because I’ve been bugging them for years!”

Baobab powder? Maca powder? My mind draws a blank at these exotic names. “M-A-C-A… That’s what the Aztecs used to take before going to war,” she says with a chuckle.

 

Lose the plastic straws.
Lose the plastic straws.

 

I’m surrounded by countless jars displayed neatly on wooden racks, some of which contain an assortment of flour, grains, powders, spices, nuts and dried fruits.

The other corner of the store is home to the non-edible products like straws, soaps and skincare items. Their mantra is chic and sustainable so even the bamboo toothbrushes have an appealing design.

Sancelot chirps playfully: “I’m still French, I don’t want ugly things. Things have to be cute.”

Seated with me in a corner of her new store, the 42-year-old owner takes a swig from her much-loved bamboo tumbler that eliminates her need to buy water in plastic bottles. “The idea is to refuse all the single usage products. Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity right now. It’s not the war between superpowers. It’s climate change. So here we’re saying we’re cute, fun, whimsical but we offer concrete solutions to real problems.”

A zero waste lifestyle requires looking at your rubbish bin and asking if any of those discarded items could be put to another use or replaced with something reusable? Is anything bio-degradable or will it sit in a landfill for hundreds of years, polluting the environment?

Despite what some of us may think, recycling alone isn’t enough. Local statistics show that while Malaysians produce 30,000 tonnes of waste every day, only five per cent of it is recycled (https://cleanmalaysia.com).

Furthermore, the website said that the country’s build-up of solid waste is resulting in tremendous land and air pollution for the environment, health problems for communities and bottlenecks to economic growth.

Before even making a purchase, we should ask ourselves another question. Sancelot acknowledges that “… the marketing gets us all the time and we want to buy those things,” before continuing: “But look at what is already in your house and how many items you have in your bathroom. Ask yourself do I really need it? Was it out of stock and I needed it?”

The impassioned zero waste advocate isn’t expecting Malaysians to turn their lifestyle around 360 degrees the way she has done but she actively encourages little changes so that we can be part of the solution — not keep contributing to the problem.

 

Bamboo toothbrushes.
Bamboo toothbrushes.

 

TOUCH, SMELL AND TASTE

With the interview over and left to my own devices, I browse every corner of the bright and airy zero waste store at ease, comfortable that I’m not being shadowed, yet able to get assistance at any time. No one coaxing me to buy anything. No signs of organic compost.

Everything looks intriguing. The bulky jars on the floor filled with dry provisions. Many smaller glass jars lining the shelves. The self-service counters where you can fill, weigh and pack your own items. Granola calling out to be sampled. A big aluminium container of olive oil on tap. More large containers filled with organic body wash. A table laid out with testers for toiletries. Reusable feminine care and cloth diapers. Skincare, scrubs and serums.

It’s a haven for eco-conscious and health-conscious consumers, the kind of place where one shops responsibly and takes the time to know the products. I touch, smell and taste my way around the eye-opening displays and finally pay for my selections, knowing that I’ll be visiting again. It’s an enlightening way of shopping that will hopefully help give rise to more aware and mindful consumers.

 

Reusable glass cups.
Reusable glass cups.

 

The Hive

Website: https://thehivebulkfoods.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thehivebulkfoods/

Instagram: thehivebulkfoods

 

Colourful tiffin carriers, bags and scarves add to the eclectic range of offerings.
Colourful tiffin carriers, bags and scarves add to the eclectic range of offerings.

 

LOW WASTE TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

1. When visiting people during the festive season, you may want to bring a customary gift for the host. If it’s something like a box of chocolates or a bottle of bubbly, just forgo the wrapping and pretty ribbons. Quality food and beverage don’t need such frills anyway.

2. Christmas presents don’t always have to mean physical gifts. The gift of an experience can be delightful and memorable, such as a concert ticket, a theatre performance, a soothing massage, a haircare session, a fun workshop, a fitness class, a cooking class, etc.

3. If you’re going to give a physical gift, consider pre-loved or second hand items like books or decor, especially when it comes to presents for children who outgrow toys and apparel quickly. Sancelot suggests checking out news on social media to find buy and sell events, swaps or similar offerings.

4. So much gift paper, ribbons and bows get thrown away each Christmas. Sancelot’s zero-waste solution is to practise the Japanese wrapping tradition of ‘furoshiki’. These pretty and colourful wrapping cloths can be a gift in itself and make a reusable eco-friendly alternative to expensive and short-lived gift paper. They’re available at The Hive. Alternatively, ask your mum or aunties if they have any unwanted or spare fabric.

5. When shopping for festive meals, avoid wastage by planning ahead and buying what you need, instead of excess amounts, not forgetting to bring all your shopping bags. If you’re taking away food from a restaurant, bring your own containers to pack the food. Go for quality over quantity.

opping-conscience” target=”_blank”]