Bulk Market, London: A Zero Waste Oasis in the Big City

Bulk Market

As some of you know, Mat and I recently moved to Manchester, England, after spending nearly a year in India.  Having begun my journey toward a less-wasteful lifestyle in South Asia, I was a little bit nervous about moving to the U.K., because I had started to get my zero waste routine figured out, and I felt like I would be starting from scratch in a new country, not knowing where to find certain things.  

So when I saw a Facebook post about a zero waste pop-up shop opening in London, I got really excited, as London is only two hours away from Manchester by train.  I happened to have reason to go to London this past week, so I decided to pay a visit to this Bulk Market I’d read so much about. 

The shop itself is not that easy to get to, at least from where I was staying, in Kensington.  It took about an hour, some of it on a bus, some on the tube, but eventually I arrived at its modest store front on Kingsland Road in Dalston.  

Upon walking in the door, my little environmentalist heart skipped a beat.  The shop is a beautifully organized, beautifully stocked zero waste daydream.  I took my time wandering around the goods on offer, and knew right away that I would be walking out the door with an armload of guilt-free goodies.

 

How It Works

Sitting on the front table are a scale, a funnel, and a sign explaining how the shop works: 

  1. BYO - bring your own containers to refill
  2. Tare - take note of the weight of your container and write it on your jar
  3. Refill - refill with any product of choice
  4. Pay - take your shopping to the till

There is also a wicker basket filled with empty containers that customers have left behind for others to use, though the store does also sell glass and metal containers for those who don’t have them.  There are also pens with which to write down the tare (weight) of your container, which you can measure by placing it on the scale.  

What's On Offer

In the front of the store, in the window are wicker baskets and wooden crates filled with vegetables, and a shelf stocked with freshly baked bread and pastries.

 Produce and breads in the shop's front window.

Produce and breads in the shop's front window.

On a table in the center of the shop is a basket of free range, organic eggs, some with brown shells and some with blue.  On a raised platform in the center of the table sit large, lidded jars full of spices.  On one side of this same table are jugs full of oils and vinegars, and on the other side are bins containing dried fruits, pasta, and loose-leaf tea.  

Along the wall on the left hand side of the shop is a row of bulk dispensers filled with a wide range of dried goods: grains, rice, pasta, nuts and beans, and bins below filled with various flours and powders.  Next to the bulk dispensers is a refrigerated case with fresh kombucha and cheese on offer.  

Along the back wall are vats of natural, organic cleaning products, including laundry detergent, washing-up liquid, and multi-surface spray, along with natural cleaning cloths and brushes.  Above them (and my favorite touch in the shop) are bulk dispensers of dog food.  

 A selection of essential oils and plastic-free toiletries.

A selection of essential oils and plastic-free toiletries.

On the wall on the right hand side of the store are shelves filled with cosmetic and toiletry items, including essential oils, carrier oils (almond, castor, and argan), bamboo toothbrushes, unwrapped hand-made soaps, liquid castile soap, beeswaxed cloth food wraps, toilet paper wrapped in paper packaging, shampoo bars, and even butters and clays for making your own cosmetics.

By the register are mesh Turtle Bags for carrying produce.  

The Price

I had a hard time narrowing down my choices, because obviously I wanted to buy literally everything.  Fortunately, the fact that I don’t live locally and had a long journey home prevented me from spending all my money, though I still did okay.

 In the end, I picked up: 

  • Sodium bicarb
  • Baking powder
  • Liquid castile soap
  • Organic apple cider vinegar
  • Two bars of hand-milled soap
  • Two bamboo toothbrushes for the hubby and me
  • Beeswax food wraps
  • A turtle bag
 My haul of goodies from Bulk Market.

My haul of goodies from Bulk Market.

The price tag for all these things (and their containers, as I didn’t have my own): £42.97 ($56.68). 

Is it cheap?  No.  Is it worth it to spend money on quality products that don’t poison my body or trash the planet?  For me, yes.  But not everyone has that kind of money to spend in a zero waste shop.  Those of us who can, should.  Those of us who can’t can still make everyday decisions that limit our impact.  Each of us can contribute in some way.  In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”