Ottawa's First Zero-Waste Grocery Store Innovates Buying In Bulk

A new zero-waste grocery store has opened its doors in Ottawa, offering everything from produce to dry goods to dairy to beauty products, all with "absolutely no packaging waste."


May 21 2019, Updated 4:45 p.m. ET

Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, grocery stores can be huge waste zones. Between the plastic bags used for produce to the cardboard wrapped around the shelved goods, a large amount of unnecessary packaging is often used to get your food from the store to home. Even organic, local, and sustainably produced products can up their carbon footprint by opting for extra packaging, passing the waste onto well-meaning customers who may see no other options.

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Luckily, new solutions are popping up across the world in an effort to reduce the amount waste grocery stores produce. And the latest one just opened its doors in Canada's capital city of Ottawa. 

Called NU Grocery, the store is a zero-waste shop, meaning it creates no packaging waste. The store looks like a giant bulk section, which it essentially is. Rather than having products wrapped in individual packages, everything is held in large bins (with a few exceptions), and patrons scoop their desired amounts into their own containers. The store stocks everything from produce to dairy to baked goods to beauty products.

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“We have a couple of products from local suppliers that are in jars, but customers can return the jar and the jar goes back to the supplier who reuses it,” the store's founder, Valerie Leloup, told Metro News. “So, if you shop in our store, you create absolutely no packaging waste.”

Customers are expected to bring in their own jars or cloth bags, which are weighed at NU Grocery's tare station and labeled with the weight. Then they can be filled with anything, and the weight of the container will be subtracted from the total. The grocery store does offer free compostable paper bags for dry products and lends out ready-to-use jars for wet products, which come with a deposit. You can then either return the jars to get the deposit back or keep them to start your own jar collection. 

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This zero-waste is especially welcome in Canada, where the average citizen produces more than 1537 lbs of waste per year, one of the highest rates among developed countries. While many Canadians compost and recycle, the majority of the nation's waste still ends up in landfills, which generate 20 percent of Canada’s methane emissions. Grocery stores may not be the main cause of these emissions, but they certainly contribute.

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In this landscape, NU Grocery's opening weekend was a success. The store was constantly busy and people showed up prepared with their own containers. 

"The store was really full from morning to evening. I don't think we had no customers in the store at any point," LeLoup said. "It was a bit of a gamble. It's not like Ottawa has a very vocal zero-waste movement."

With such success, LeLoup is considering opening multiple locations to spread the eco-movement around, as they note, "My dream was always to open more than one zero-waste grocery store."

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