Unpackt: How To Really Only Buy What You Need

Let’s face it, we have a packaging (one third of our domestic waste was made up of packaging) and food waste (Singapore generated 744 million kg of food waste in 2019) issue in Singapore.

Buying only the amount you need is environmentally friendly and results in less waste, but it is easier said than done — especially for small families or singles living alone. This is because many products, especially groceries, are a standard size in supermarkets which may be too much to use or consume before its expiration date.

Going packaging-free and getting the exact amount you need

Here’s where pay-by-weight stores come in with a win-win solution. The system is simple, get your grocery staples and other daily necessities at the exact amount you need — be it in a single serving or in bulk, and bring your own reusable containers to get even closer to that zero-waste lifestyle. Several such zero-waste stores have emerged in Singapore in recent years, and even mainstream supermarkets have caught on with bulk sections in selected outlets.

Singapore’s first zero-waste grocery store, UnPackt, opened its doors in 2018 with a simple goal — cultivating a community that cares enough for Earth to try living a more sustainable and low-waste lifestyle.

Bring your own containers, use the free reusable ones that you can pick up in the store (above), or pay for a paper bag

UnPackt started offering staples such as pasta, legumes and spices first, and they have since expanded to stock shampoo/soaps, detergents, chocolates and even an Asian pantry line-up that includes red dates, dried fungus and mee sua. They even have a few shelves of traditional Singapore snacks that are stored in those oh-so-recognisable large metal biscuit tins.

Only need a one-person serving of pasta for dinner tonight or a few stalks of dried chilli? You can just get 70g of pasta from Unpackt instead of the standard 500g pack from supermarkets, and 10g of chilli instead of a whole pack

To beat Singapore’s high humidity and to maintain freshness, perishables are kept in smaller air-tight containers that are cleaned often and replenished frequently to keep produce in optimal condition.

“Sometimes, retail products have a very long shelf life, e.g. 3 years. Sometimes you even forget what’s left in your cupboard because of this. So, I suggest to customers to buy what they need for maybe just 6-months, and then come back for more after that,” says Florence, the co-founder of UnPackt.

BONUS! UnPackt now also carries, on occasion, excess food products from importers/retailers that may look a bit roughed up, or near expiry — but still safe and good for consumption

Bringing the zero-waste store concept to Singapore

While more people are interested to do their part for their environment now, there was some hesitance from their customers back when UnPackt first started. The concept of bringing your own containers and getting only the exact amount of product(s) you need were quite foreign to most Singaporeans. Plus, with UnPackt being the first store here with a zero-waste concept, customers immediately compared their prices to the large supermarkets.

But founders Florence and Jeff’s efforts to adamantly focus on creating awareness and educating the public on the benefits of a low-waste and sustainable lifestyle paid off.

You can find a range of tea blends here that is charged by weight too, and can purchase many flavours, by just getting as little as 2g to try. Not possible with retail-sized boxes of tea at this price point = $$$ saved

But even with increased demand, UnPackt was still a small outfit that couldn’t compete with large retailers and their economies of scale. So, being steadfast to their sustainability ethos, Florence and Jeff managed to work with suppliers to get products in smaller bulk and tapped on their suppliers’ existing supply chain logistics, to maintain reasonable prices and a low carbon footprint for their products.

With buy-in and demand from customers, UnPackt has been able to expand their offerings to include other groceries/daily necessities. In photo: UnPackt founders Florence (left) and Jeff (right)

This belief applies to their downstream operations too. UnPackt now even offers an eco-friendly delivery option, where you get your items in reusable containers, which will be collected back on the next delivery.

Education is key

Ultimately, Florence and Jeff believe that education is the way to go in encouraging more people to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.

“We want to concentrate more on education, so we started by getting people accustomed to this zero-waste concept and what it means to be sustainable — there are actually many ways to do it to fit your lifestyle. Then we slowly spread the message by highlighting the benefits of going zero-waste. This is why we also chose this location for our store too, because it is situated right in a community and neighbourhood where we have a greater opportunity to share all our ideas with people.”

There are also opportunities for businesses to do their part. UnPackt offers a corporate pantry option — where you get your necessities like sugar, coffee and tea in bulk containers rather than individually packed ones, and workshops for organisations and their employees to learn more about how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

Keen to kickstart your zero waste journey? Find out more at https://unpackt.com.sg/.

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Singapore Green Plan

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Read our stories here on the official Medium for the Singapore Green Plan 2030. Find out more: greenplan.gov.sg

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