Innovative shop Unpackaged is at the forefront of a consumer revolution

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It sells everything you could ever need for a great meal. There's only one catch – it won't give you anything to take it all home in.

A A A

If you ever find yourself eyeing the kitchen bin guiltily, with its vast mound of plastic packets, cardboard containers and wrappers, you might be interested to know there's a whole movement that aims to go one better than even recycling: precycling, or cutting out packaging in the first place.

Among those at the forefront of this consumer revolution is Unpackaged, a first-of-its-kind shop that eschews all packaging and invites customers to bring in their own containers and Tupperware to stock up on essentials such as flour, cereals, nuts, pasta, rice, lentils and so on. Bring bottles for oils, apple juice, wine and even gin. Simply weigh your container when you arrive so it can be deducted from the overall weight and then get filling. Not only will you save money but by foregoing packaging you'll reduce the amount of material waste being either sent to landfills or incinerated.

Although Unpackaged has been operating out of Islington since 2007, it has just moved into a new store in Hackney, east London. With the larger space it can now offer a greater range of products, as well as a bar and café (headed up by chef Kate de Syllas, a well-known local chef who previously worked at Dalston's A Little of What You Fancy).

Unpackaged was founded six years ago by Catherine Conway, who got the idea while decanting rice from a plastic packet into a jar at home. She started out doing market stalls specialising in eco products and a small range of wholefoods and nuts. "I wanted to see how people reacted. Would they bring their own containers and refill?" Conway says. "It did really well and we ended up with two market stalls but it was a bit impractical lugging all the stuff around."

The company has a clear philosophy that includes sourcing organic, fair-trade products where possible, supporting artisan local producers and applying the principles of the waste hierarchy – reduce, reuse, recycle – to all parts of its operation. "We've really upgraded our systems, our dispensers, and we've got more range."

This commitment to reducing waste and packaging is present in every aspect of the store. As well as using unsold produce in the café, instead of printing off labels for products it uses black tiles with erasable white wax pencils. It even has a solution for that most eco-unfriendly product, the takeaway paper coffee cup, with its "The 1,000 Cup Countdown" scheme. Unpackaged has pledged to provide 1,000 biodegradable cups, each of which comes complete with an RFID tag that will tell you more about the company's aims and if returned will score you a free coffee. When it runs out of cups, customers will provide their own takeaway mug or sit in for their morning cappuccino.

But what if someone new to the values of the store wanders in looking for some pasta? "The whole point is to take people on a journey with you," Conway says. "If someone comes in and they're not green and they don't have any containers, I don't want to say that I won't serve them because they go away with such an awful view of what we do. Whereas if we say that this time we'll provide them with a small paper bag and next time they can bring their own, then it takes them two or three goes and they'll come around and end up bringing their own."

As well as general groceries (fresh bread and organic fruit and veg can also be picked up there and there's a dairy section), Unpackaged carries a large selection of bumper-sized Ecover products that can be decanted into old bottles (you'll save roughly 50p for each litre of product you refill rather than buy new). It even sells compostable loo paper. "We want to be the local store," Conway says. "We want them to come here rather than go to a supermarket." Conway hopes to spend more time developing an own line of Unpackaged products and she also hopes to set up other branches around London. But at the moment Unpackaged finds its dedicated customers are travelling from all over. "They're coming for the atmosphere as much as what we're trying to do."

Unpackaging beyond Britain

1. In.gredients

Chosen as one of Entrepreneur magazine's "100 Brilliant Companies 2012" after the initial idea was crowd-funded online. In.gredients established itself with the innovative idea of supplying local produce, entirely packaging-free, to the residents of Austin, Texas since opening in August 2012.

2. Rainbow Grocery

San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery Co-operative has a packaging-free bulk section with over 800 products to be bought, including 30 varieties of flour. For customers bringing their own containers, Rainbow Grocery takes five cents off each item bought, but also has jars and recyclable bags on sale.

3. Effecorta

Effecorta's first store opened in Lucca, Italy two years ago with the team behind the business soon opening a new store in Milan after its success. Effecorta opened in Lucca two years ago with the mission of encouraging local production of food, reducing waste and healthy eating.

Oliver Smith

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary Science Teacher Jan 20...

English Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The Job:Te...

French Teacher for new post starting November 2014

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: the job ? We are looking for...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker