8.3 billion tonnes is the amount of plastic produced in the world. This figure was calculated by Roland Geyer in his 2017 article "Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made". It is, without doubt, an impressive figure.
If we add to this the difficulty we currently have in recycling this material, it leaves us with long-lasting and environmentally damaging waste. This is why movements such as Zero Waste have emerged, which advocate reducing waste of all kinds to the minimum possible.
In Madrid and Barcelona there are already supermarkets that do not produce plastic waste, so I went to the "Yes Future" supermarket in Calle Viladomat 66 in Barcelona to ask them about this innovative form of ecological commerce.
Alejandro and Olga are partners in this impressive establishment, which shines in the middle of the city. We talked to Alejandro, and we loved the visit, among other things because almost all the product is of proximity and kilometre 0, watch out for the interview!
Tell us a bit about this project and the situation in Spain. Where did you get the idea to open Yes Future, a supermarket free of packaging?
Alejandro: The two of us lived together, we were roommates. The idea came up after we realized how much waste we were generating after our weekly shopping, especially plastic waste such as packaging, which was practically new to the recycling container and we thought, why couldn't we refill it? In addition, we consumed an ecological product and found it difficult to understand how a product that is respectful of the environment during its production, was not so at the time of packaging it in a plastic that would be discarded when we got home. We realised that making a 100% bulk purchase was not easy, because if we wanted to buy a drink we had to go to a specific place, if we wanted to compare cleaning products we had to go to another one, etc... So we said, why not open the same space, where people can make a complete bulk purchase, of 100% ecological product and in a sustainable way, where they can encourage the customer to re-use their own containers, instead of buying new ones. In-store packages are weighed before being refilled to remove the tare from the package and thus pay only for the content, thus creating less waste for the environment in each of the purchases of a consumer. So we set to work on this and, after a year and a half of planning and execution, Yes Future opened doors as the first supermarket without packaging.
Did you find a great deal of acceptance from the beginning or was it a rough start?
A: The truth is that it was quite a good experience from the beginning, because despite the fact that in countries like Australia, Germany or the USA such initiatives have already existed for a long time and we did not know if the consumer here was prepared for a change in consumption habits like this, we discovered that they were and that in fact they were waiting for it. We have customers of all ages, maybe the first times they come they don't bring the packages, but after that first visit they come from home with their bags or packages to fill them up again. So, for now we are happy with the reception you are having.
Do you have any line of business expansion in mind? For example, home delivery by bicycle or electric motorbike?
A: Yes, we are working on it! We opened only a year and two months ago and we are still working on setting up the shop in the early stages. The project is much bigger but we are taking it step by step, after all it is just the two of us and until the end of the summer Olga has been alone in the shop, as I was keeping my old job, but several little things are in the pipeline to be expanded and always in line with our values, so if we do home delivery it will surely be in sustainable transport. At the moment, every week we try to have new products, either food or zero waste utensils that we are testing.
What are the most frequent questions from customers regarding the business? What do they find most difficult to understand? What do they like best?
A: How does it work? This is the question we are asked most often. Many customers, when they enter the store, see that everything is in bulk, but they want to know if it is self-service, if they can bring containers from home or if otherwise they do not bring them, they ask if they can buy anyway. There is nothing in particular that is difficult to understand, when the customer sees the store and talks to us, the logic for returning to consume in a more sustainable way is evident to them, and therefore they share that we must begin to change our consumption habits, especially in food. Our wall with taps to refill household cleaning products and the section of natural alternatives to plastic utensils, such as bamboo toothbrushes, loofah scourers, etc... is the part of the store that they like the most in general, those who already know about these alternatives can only find them on the internet, so they are happy to find that section in our store because that way they can touch them and ask us how to use them, it is more personal.
The disposal of plastic from all products is certainly a challenge. Do you have problems with suppliers?
A: We don't have big problems but it does require an effort to find who to work with since, the format in how the products are sent to us is important to us. After all, we believe that our philosophy must be consistent both with the consumer and internally. With some suppliers we have managed to reduce the use of plastics in their shipments as much as possible, something we are very grateful for, with others we are still working on it. This is something that we are very conscious of, not only with plastics but also with packaging that we consider unnecessary, for example initially the bamboo brushes arrived to us individually wrapped and in boxes of 10, so we asked to eliminate these boxes, even if they were made of cardboard and biodegradable so that the brushes arrived to us individually wrapped in a single box. In the end they understand that you can always reduce waste a little more.
What is the Zero Waste movement?
A: It is trying to reduce as much as possible the waste and rubbish we generate in our daily life. It is not something that can be achieved 100% from one day to the next, it is a process that requires time and a small change in habits, but I always tell my customers that if in the end you manage to reduce your waste by 50%, another by 30% or another by 70%, you are already doing a lot for the environment.
What are the alternatives for drinks and liquids?
A: Buy them in bulk and refill the bottles you have at home! We currently have wine, beer (which is handmade, organic and gluten-free), and kombucha pumps. Customers can bring their bottles from home or buy the ones we have in the shop and re-use them later.
With regard to cleaning at home, gels, detergents and dishwashers, how can you solve it, taking into account that some of them are very strong?
A: For household cleaning we have opted for products made in Barcelona and biodegradable, are products made with a % of low surfactants that are respectful of the environment and also work wonderfully. We offer them in bulk, like the rest of the products in the store, and the customer can take the quantity he needs, no more and no less.
Currently in Spain we find ourselves in a somewhat precarious situation with respect to the economy. Would you say that it is more expensive to buy in this way, or that it takes extra time to buy?
A: In general buying in bulk should always be cheaper, because it saves the cost of packaging and you can also buy only the amount you need and thus adjust your spending, while with packaged products, in addition to adding packaging costs to the final price, you must take the amount marked on the package, which means that if you do not consume it, it can cause food waste that translates into economic waste. It is important to note that when comparing prices you must know the values of the product such as its quality, the type of crop or the origin of the product, as an organic round rice imported from Asia cannot cost the same as one grown here in the Ebro Delta. It is true that buying in bulk does involve a greater investment of time, but we consider this to be a positive thing, as it allows you to organise your purchase in advance and therefore reduce the risk of falling into compulsive purchases attracted by the marketing of the packaging of the products.
What would you recommend to mums and dads about nappies, wipes or baby equipment that covers the plastic shelves?
A: There are more sustainable alternatives, such as biodegradable diapers or washable cloth diapers, as was done before. You can also find cloth baby wipes, which, as well as being more environmentally friendly, are also more gentle on baby's skin as they do not contain perfume or bleach. We do not yet have a special section for babies in the shop, but we may introduce options little by little. For the moment, in that line, we already have the re-usable organic cotton make-up removal pads.
While I was there they came to bring the bread, it came in a typical bakery bag, from where it was taken and this was returned to the supplier, who will be able to use it again, fantastic! He was showing me curious products, like the stainless steel or bamboo straws, with his brush to clean them or the completely biodegradable bamboo brushes. They also have some jars that look like plastic, but are made of cornstarch, so they are biodegradable, and can be reused.
The truth is that taking a walk through Yes, Future, the small supermarket in Sant Antoni without plastic, has been a real discovery and an adventure. I can only recommend you to go and try some of their wonderful products, such as the dry gels and shampoos, which are handmade by a girl from Tarragona.