I recently read several books on the zero waste lifestyle and was motivated to try a few new eco-friendly habits like buying my groceries in bulk. I do not see myself never buying pre-packaged food ever again, but I was intrigued by the idea of buying more of my food in bulk in order to reduce waste and spend less money on useless packaging!
I already had a few light cotton bags for buying fruit, vegetables and dry pasta or rice at ordinary stores, but I wasn’t sure how to take it a step further. Then, one of my friends told me about the Day by Day shops that sell all of their products in bulk. I just had to try it out!
The closest shop for me was in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, at 1 rue du general Beuret. I took my grocery cart with me on the bus and made my way to the store.
As soon as I saw the shop, I felt right at home. It is colourful, well-lit, pretty and quaint. I was greeted warmly by the shop owner as I walked in, and as I wandered around the store her husband explained zero-waste grocery shopping to me with enthusiasm.
The idea is simple: pay for the exact amount of food you want and not a single cent for the packaging. You can fill up your own containers or reusable bags or take the jars that are at your disposal at the shop. They are donated by other customers who would rather help another person buy in bulk instead of throwing their glass jars in the recycling bin.
The shops owners wash the jars and remove the labels before putting them back in the shop for other customers to use for free. They write their weight with a marker pen on the bottom so they can subtract the weight of the jar when it is filled with flour, olives or pasta.
I had seen several bulk sections in organic grocery stores before but this shop was something else. I saw bulk boxes of things I had only ever seen packaged before!
- Spices: salt, different types of pepper, paprika, thyme, gomasio…
- Pasta: multi-coloured, gluten-free, whole-wheat…
- Rice: basmati, Arborio, multi-grain…
- Nuts and seeds: cashews, peanuts, quinoa, sesame seeds, poppy seeds…
- Chickpeas, red beans, lentils…
- Different kinds of tea and coffee beans
- Flour: whole-wheat, white, self-raising, rice flour, cornflour, gluten-free…
- Sugar: white, brown, coconut…
- Chocolates, sweets, cocoa powder
- Vinegar, honey, olives, dates, dried fruit, dried tomatoes, fresh eggs…
- Cleaning products: washing up liquid, soap, detergent, white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda
- Beauty products: wooden toothbrushes, unpackaged soap, liquid soap, reusable makeup remover wipes…
In short, just about anything you could wish for when doing your everyday groceries!
Here is what I bought last time I went, to give you an idea of the prices:
- 418g of spelt flour for 3€30 (7€90/kilo)
- 522g of French acacia honey for 10€43 (19€99/kilo)
- 490g of dry chickpeas for 1€67 (3€40/kilo)
- 58g of sundried tomatoes for 78 cents (13€50/kilo)
- 102g of sunflower seeds for 50 cents (4€90/kilo)
- 86g of black peppercorns for 4€77 (55€50/kilo)
- 138g of unsweetened cocoa powder for 2€47 (17€90/kilo)
- 16g of gomasio for 1€28 (80€/kilo)
- 1,57kg of white basmati rice for 8€95 (5€70/kilo)
- 638g of Italian Arborio rice for 2€23 (3€50/kilo)
- 318g of freshly ground robusta coffee for 2€70 (8€50/kilo)
- 140g of rose superfatted soap for 4€13 (29€50/kilo)
- 1 empty bottle of washing liquid to fill: 1€10
- 510g of washing up liquid for 1€89 (3€70/kilo)
This added up to 46€20 altogether. Apart from the honey and the gomasio that I have seen at lower prices elsewhere, overall it is much cheaper than the packaged ingredients I usually buy.
I really appreciated the fact that I could not only cut back on packaging by doing my shopping there, but I could also reuse the packaging I already had. I now keep all the glass jars I empty – whether from jam, olives, or even spices – and either fill them up at the shop or donate them so others can use them. The shop I go to not only accepts glass jars but empty egg cartons too!
Apart from the shop and products themselves, you can sense a certain vibe amongst the people there. The shop owners are truly helpful and glad to see you trying out their produce. I have been there a few times now and I always leave the shop feeling proud of the efforts I have made and hopeful that an alternative future is possible thanks to initiatives like these!
I only wish the shop was within walking distance of my flat so I could just pop in whenever I needed something. Still, when I do visit the shop I buy a lot of basic ingredients so I don’t have to go back again too soon. And it feels great to make a difference!