Last January, personal care conglomerates Procter & Gamble and Unilever announced plans on collaborating with zero-waste startups to close the loop on their single-use packaging, from Rexona deodorant to Crest mouthwash. News like this implies that the zero-waste movement that garnered popularity last 2018 doesn’t seem to be a passing fad that critics have made it out to be.

Even in the Philippines, the movement has started getting traction among the people. An example would be how package-less groceries have found their footing in Metro Manila. The concept of a package-less grocery seemed only to be read about from one’s social media feed.

With an increase in awareness and demand for sustainable products in Manila, several package-less groceries are able thrive and provide people with an alternative to shopping in plastic-ridden supermarkets or groceries.

The makings of a package-less grocery

One of the pioneer package-less groceries in the city is Humble Market. Tucked inside YDG Coffee in Mandala Park is a wide variety of kitchen essentials, such as sea salt and vegetable oil, and locally-sourced organic ingredients, from grains to dried fruits, found in dispensers and bins. Customers replace the ubiquitous plastic bag with their own reusable containers to weigh and transport the ingredients.

Kurt Lee, a patron of package-less groceries, believes that they are even easier than shopping at regular ones. Although it may be difficult at times to find and bright his own containers, “Package-less groceries make it easier to manage space at home,” he said. Less time would be spent on taking products out of their single-use packaging and throwing them in the garbage.

Humble Market also tackles the amount of landfill created by personal care items with Humble Essentials – their own personal care line that include bamboo toothbrushes, metal safety razors, and silicone menstrual cups.

This bold move was the product of owner Roanna Medina’s own battle with autoimmune disease. Her condition had pushed her to seek clean and whole foods, which eventually led to putting up a grocery that promotes sustainable living and holistic wellness.

“We see people within our circles getting sick because of the environmental toxins… It’s no longer our fault, it’s the environment that we live in and that’s what’s really pushing us to make those changes,” Roanna stated.

Now operating for seven months, Humble Market also acts as a collaborative space with local brands and suppliers. Roanna and her team initiate partnerships with brands based on the alignment of their values. “[We] just treat it like dating,” she quipped.

Their criteria boils down to three things: all-natural ingredients, plastic-free packaging, and reusability or biodegradability.

“And once we really see that there’s alignment and we have a future together, and we really could commit to each other, that’s where we really connect to talk about the terms, about our partnership,” she explained.

A few partners to name are Akkula PH, who makes organic lip balm packaged in compostable paper, Messy Bessy, who creates all-natural and non-toxic liquid detergent, and Hineleban Farms, who grows organic adlai in the foothills of Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon.

The alternative norm

As the zero-waste movement and the interest in sustainability grows, the question of how far should habits surrounding convenience arises.

In the case of grocery shopping, it isn’t as black and white as skipping plastic straws for beverages. For Roanna, the solution is not exactly to forgo and replace all regular supermarkets and groceries with package-less ones.

Instead, Humble Market prioritizes making sustainability not only accessible but approachable for all. “We don’t take an aggressive approach because we understand or acknowledge that it requires change to happen. And not everyone’s immediately ready to make those little changes in their lives,” she clarified.

Some of these non-sustainable habits are even ingrained in culture. An example she gave was Filipinas’ hesitancy to try out a menstrual cup due to their preference over sanitary napkins over tampons.  

“The thing is we should always have options. What might work for you might not work for someone else. One person’s food could be another person’s poison… It goes back to our bio-individuality, how different we all are and so having options – that’s just what’s natural. We just can’t have one absolute thing because it’s only going to cater to a small segment of society,” Roanna had eloquently put.

Just having the choice to go package-less or not is still a big leap from the past wherein the non-sustainable choice was the only choice. There is still a lot of room for research and innovation to improve sustainable consumerism.

As for Humble Market, their next step would be to expand their products to at least 200 units by the end of the year. “We are growing but just at the right pace,” Roanna said.

Normally, a mindset like that is discouraged for business. But a moderate pace of growth entails deliberateness and mindfulness that the zero-waste movement promotes. It is exactly this encouragement for people to take more careful steps that shows sustainability is beyond a blindly-followed fad.

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