Popping up for the next few months on a busy road in Hackney, Bulk Market is a zero waste supermarket, on a mission to help Londoners reduce their food and packaging waste. We caught up with Ingrid Caldoni, Bulk Market’s founder, to find out what inspired her to create this unique retail experience.
This is a shop that’s far from standard, with brandless products sourced locally from other social enterprises, co-operatives, community farms or made on site. Everything, from food to cleaning products, is sold in bulk or reusable containers.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your zero waste story…
I’m 34 and have been living in London for 5 years now (I’m Italian/Brazilian) – and I love this city so much. I’m married and have a lovely miniature Schnauzer called Fuggle, named after a variety of Kent hops. I am a super beer geek and brew my own beer too! I started my zero waste journey 2 years ago after reading an article about Lauren Singer and her 2 years of rubbish fitting in a jar. I got super inspired by her lifestyle and started researching everything I could about zero waste.
What was the main inspiration behind Bulk Market?
Bulk Market was born more out of necessity. I was struggling with my weekly shop since going zero waste. In London you can’t find everything in only one place; you need to travel to several places to be able to stock your fridge and cupboard, and I was so tired of that.
At work [in retail marketing] I also felt that nobody was really sharing the same concerns with environment as I did. I had this strong gut feeling that I should do something which I truly believe in. I didn’t want to stay in my 9-5 job as it didn’t resonate with me anymore. I wanted to do something which would help other people and so here we are – a gal with her dog and big dreams.
How would you describe the Bulk Market experience?
People are encouraged to BYO (bring your own) containers and refill with products from the store. Some people do feel a bit lost when they first come to the shop, as there are no packaged products and no labels.
I think when you run a shop like this, it’s important to work with suppliers who have certifications, as this reassures people. My cleaning products are organically certified, cruelty free, approved by the Vegan Society and allergy free (as are my hygiene products). My fresh produce is all certified by Soil Association and my dry goods have the EU organic certification.
How have you sourced the products in the shop and how are you working with suppliers to receive products unpackaged?
I stock produce supplied from food co-ops, social enterprises (bakeries), community gardens and local businesses (like a coffee roaster and kombucha maker), and UK certified organic farmers. I like to support small independent businesses like mine around me to reinvest in the local economy.
By shortening the supply chain I get way less waste to deal with as the goods don’t need to be shipped from far away. My deodorant supplier, as an example, sends me her deodorants with paper tape in cardboard boxes she reuses and non-GMO packaging peanuts which dissolve in water. My veggies come in cardboard boxes which I recycle. I refill a lidded box with coffee from the local roaster and I use glass demijohns to refill kombucha.
I do get the odd plastic drum for liquids, but in totally recyclable grades. It is impossible to avoid waste 100% as the world is not zero waste.
Your current location is a month pop up so what are your plans for Bulk Market in the future?
The popup shop will run in Dalston for 3 months, while the permanent space is being sorted. There is a location in Lower Clapton which I am negotiating the lease terms for and applying for planning permission so things are moving forward.
I’ve seen you’ll have an apiary on your new site (and that you’re leaving some honey behind for the bees!); why was this something that you wanted to have at part of Bulk Market?
The beehive will be in place in my permanent space, which will have a garden. Bees are essential to our food chain and they also can help people to reconnect with food, hence my idea in having a beehive. Food production is hard work and if people understand that they will be less likely to waste food. Bees need to fly miles and miles to collect pollen and nectar from thousand of flowers to make 1 little jar of honey. That is a lot of work!
Could you share some tips for how people can reduce their packaging waste day to day?
Start eliminating the 5 big offenders: disposable coffee cups, disposable water bottles, plastic straws, disposable plastic cutlery for takeaways and plastic carrier bags. Reusable alternatives are stylish and better for the planet.
Arm yourself with a zero waste basic survival kit, complete with bamboo cutlery or a spork, a reusable coffee cup with can double as a drinking cup, a reusable straw and an organic cotton bag. Avoid buying bottled water by refilling a reusable bottle with tap water.
There are issues from different fronts. We have a behavioural issue: a throwaway culture that is addicted to cheap/disposable things and based heavily on convenience. People need to understand that there is a true cost for everything we consume, either social or environmental. Businesses like mine can make a dent on this problem.
It’s difficult to expect people to change behaviour if that implies too much effort. Retailers really need to make this as easy for the consumer as possible and that’s my biggest aim. There’s also an issue with public policies. Our government doesn’t put the burden on recycling and recovering materials on the manufacturers, but on us instead.
We pay with our taxes to haul, ship, burn and dispose of the rubbish created by the industry. I see packaging as part of the product and who makes the product should be responsible for the disposal of it. Waste is purely poor design. Things aren’t designed with a circular approach yet, but slowly this is changing.
Head down and visit Bulk-Market and remember to BYO!