The amount of packaging we throw away as part of our modern lives is astounding. At the supermarket everything seems to be packaged, often when there’s really no need, like bananas and oranges and other things that already have their own natural packaging. It seems we can’t get away from it. Obviously most things do need packaging in a supermarket situation, but it horrifies me to see how much stuff our little family of four throw in the recycling bin weekly, and that’s not even counting the stuff we don’t recycle. In summer the thing that really stacks up for us is the plastic punnets that berries come in. I know berries would be an awful mess without them, but I can’t find another use for them and we must throw away thousands over just one summer. I sometimes feel that I’m being buried alive in packaging!
I try to do the right thing, always carrying reusable shopping bags, and even bringing back my own plastic bags for fruit and veg to the greengrocer. They must think I’m some kind of fruit-loop. Maybe I am, but I feel that everyone needs to try a bit harder to cut down on packaging where possible.
I have been feeling increasingly frustrated, but it seems that maybe I’ve been living in my own little self-righteous bubble, and that other people are way ahead of me in this game. Just last week I discovered that there is a branch of The Source Bulk Foods right here in Prahran, right under my nose! The super-slick looking spice store, Gewurzhuas, set up in Hawksburn Village a few years ago, and the cute and friendly Beyond Organic Wholefoods in Prahran East opened last year – they were already on my radar. All sell unpackaged pantry staples such as rice, lentils, nuts and spices and even laundry powder, right on my doorstep, and this isn’t even Fitzroy!
Feeling somewhat sheepish, I set off to investigate and was overjoyed to find exactly what I’d been looking for, had I even stopped to think instead of whinge, or look around my own neighbourhood.
The Source Bulk Foods
A supermarket-sized purveyor of an extensive offering of bulk foods, from rice, pulses, grains and seeds to every type of nut or dried fruit you can think of. There are different types of flour, pasta, spices and herbs. Miss S. and I stocked up on delicious treats such as Turkish delight and dried bananas covered with carob (lush!) to keep our energy levels up as we took in the vast array of products. There were even products like maple syrup, honey, tahini and tamari on tap. I was completely amazed to find a corner dedicated to bulk dispensed laundry powder/liquid, household cleaning products and even body wash and lotions.
All the products are packaging-free, and you can use the paper bags provided or bring your own containers (just get them weighed empty first). For the liquid stuff there are bottles and jars that you can purchase and then re-fill next time, or you can bring your own.
The whole experience was great. The staff were knowledgeable and really helpful and the process clear and straightforward. Everything is well laid out and stacked in white plastic bins with a clear panel for easy viewing, with metal scoops attached to each bin for clean dispensing and no cross-contamination. There are paper bag stations at close intervals with clear instructions and plenty of pens so you can mark the codes for the products on the bag. The fit-out is clean and airy with a kind of Scandi hipster vibe.
Later on at home, Miss S. laughingly told her Dad how I’d gotten quite emotional at the store and she thought I was close to tears. Well, I was a bit overwhelmed. I have already been back for a few supplies and plan to do a lot of my shopping there from now on.
Blending in beautifully with the fashion boutiques and up-market delis of Hawksburn Village, it’s easy to walk right past this gorgeous herb and spice merchant. Inside, the boutique vibe continues with slick, clear plastic containers of herbs, spices, salts and teas, each with their own scoop and supply of paper bags. The traditional timber shop counter and display cabinets showcase a selection of charming, cooking-related knick-knacks such as shiny, beaten copper bowls and containers, that make perfect gifts and add-on purchases. So charming, in fact, that I bought a few items for my sisters’ birthdays.
Don’t be fooled by the captivatingly pretty display though, the real business end of things is the huge array of everyday and more exotic herbs and spices. I’ve been in here often, usually after some previously unheard of ingredient for an Ottolenghi recipe, and never failed to get what I needed. The staff are so friendly, helpful and knowledgeable too. Products are dispensed into pretty paper bags with closures, and storage instructions are included with purchase. You can also use your own containers if you want.
Beyond Organic Wholefoods
This friendly neighbourhood store is right around the corner from me. They have a selection of over 100 bulk products and a huge variety of teas that can be dispensed into paper bags or your own containers. It’s been open about a year or so, and it’s my own fault that I’ve never been in – always busily charging past without stopping. When I visited and mentioned I’d be doing a blog post about the packaging issue, the helpful staff showed me around pointing out all the things I’d been wishing for, including a couple of different types of bulk dispensed laundry detergent. I shall definitely be trying that when my current stock runs out. We get through a lot, and I despair at the amount of plastic bottles going into the recycling.
They also have a small selection of organic fruit and veg, home-made nut butters and nut milks, and packaged organic/wholefood provisions.
A healthy, take-away offering of freshly made, organic juices and smoothies, superballs, breakfast and salad bowls and wraps round out the picture.
In my bid to break up with the supermarket giants and cut down on packaging, I realised that I’m already buying all the fruit and veg from the greengrocer and fish from the fishmonger, because the quality is just better, and no more expensive. I’m buying bulk toilet paper, tissues and kitchen paper rolls online from Who Gives a Crap, because the price is comparable and 50% of their profits go to sanitation projects in developing countries (there is packaging though). We get eggs from our own chooks – they just taste better, I know exactly where they come from and I just can’t buy in to factory farming since we had hens of our own (absolutely no packaging here). I just need to take the final step, and I think now I have the last piece of the puzzle.
I know very well how convenient supermarkets are. I have always been a regular customer, and it’s been much easier to fit in with busy family and life in general. However, the balance seems to have shifted from totally supermarket to greengrocer, then fishmonger and gradually onward without nearly as much trouble as I imagined. It’s been reasonably seamless really. I’m certain that I’ll still find myself at the supermarket quite often, but I’m going to have a real go at the bulk foods idea.
Do you think there’s a movement back towards the more traditional type of shopping with specialist stores and less packaging? Have supermarkets had their day, and will they lose their power over us consumers? Is this idea just a fad? I really hope it’s here to stay.
The Source Bulk Foods
Shop 11, 176 Commercial Road, Prahran
543 Malvern Road, Toorak
Beyond Organic Wholefoods
529 High Street, Prahran East