How and where I shop zero-waste in Dublin [MAP]
December 13th, 2016
When I first arrived in Ireland a month ago, I was wondering if zero-waste shopping would be possible. I won’t pretend that I’m a 100% zero-waste person – far from it – but I try to pay attention to what I buy and limit my waste.
Before arriving, I had a look at the Bea Johnson’ bulk locator app to check if there were stores in Dublin where to shop packaging-free. The answer was not really encouraging. I thus decided to take some of my items from Belgium, within of course the maximum weight allowed for my luggage. I brought some dried fruits, a bulk lentils residue and a small jar of my essential baking soda. I would have wanted to take more but I thought it might have been a bit too touchy to fly with a huge amount of white powder on me, if you see what I mean.
It turned out that zero-waste shopping was not as complicated as I imagined it would be, even if it was still more difficult than in Belgium. That’s actually how I realized how easy it can be in my country for some items, even if we are not so far down on the road of zero waste yet.
The first thing important not to ever forget is that bulk is everywhere. All it takes is attention. Of course, chances of finding some things like butter in bulk are very small, but this is not a reason to desperate.
Shopping zero-waste is based on preparation. It means of course thinking in advance about what and how much you are going to buy in order to know what to take with you. I have always a couple of small cloth bag on me and I use them almost everyday, mainly for bread. I take in addition boxes and jars when I go to the market.
Fruits & vegetables are the easiest foods to find in bulk. Every supermarket has a choice of loose items. Not always large, but enough to find the essential. Same for bread and pastries. I’m a muffins-addict and I’ve never used something else than my reusable cotton bag to buy them. Good to know: street markets and small stores like Polish and Asian groceries offer a larger choice of loose fruits & vegetables. Personally, I buy them mostly at Temple Bar Food Market. It’s a bit more expensive than in supermarkets but practically always organic, seasonal and even local in the best cases. Above all, what a joy to see all these vegetables without any plastic around!
Cheese, meat & eggs – To be honest, I have once bought cheese and chicken in plastic tray at the very beginning of my stay. I’m not proud of it. But I have then brought my own box at Temple Bar Food Market to buy cheese and the experience was positively surprising. The seller was delighted to serve me directly in my own container and even complimented me about my “lovely box”. I tried the same experience at Fallon & Byrne and it was a total disaster, like the least sustainable thing you can imagine. The seller changed her gloves at every cheese she touched and used wax paper to weight each of them. Despite having said four times I didn’t want plastic packaging, I left the store with two out of my three pieces of cheese wrapped in plastic. Not to mention the three huge self-adhesive labels I received for each of them.
I try to reduce my meat consumption so I don’t buy it very often. I bought once chicken fillets in a butchery and it was quite easy as they were sold at piece-rates. But I’m not sure it would have been so easy to get something sold by weight as the seller looked really confused and absolutely wanted to use a plastic bag to wrapped my meat. It was by the way the first time I saw meat served in plastic bag. Not sure the wax paper used in Belgium is more sustainable but still it was quite a surprise.
Dried fruits, nuts & legumes AKA my indulgence. I’m used to make my own granola for which I need oatmeal, almonds, dried apricots and cranberries. I find all of them in bulk in Belgium. So I was a little anguished at first when I believed the only way to buy them here would be in an awful piece of plastic. That was before I discovered Temple Bar Food Market and Nutty Delights in Georges Street Arcade. Here again, prices are a bit expensive, especially compared to what I’m used in Belgium but quality is good and sellers are lovely! I also found out these last days that it’s possible to buy chickpeas, beans and lentils in glass jars at Fallon & Byrne Grocery. Glass jars are great as you can reuse them for so many purpose!
Eggs & Yogurts – I buy my eggs at Temple Bar Market. One of the merchants sells them by tray so you can fill your box at your convenience. Yogurts can be found in glass jars in almost every supermarket but I have a preference for Dunnes’. Too bad they are not returnable but that’s already a good point.
Sauces, Honey & Jam – Really easy to find them in glass jars. I have even found soup in glass jar at Dublin Food Coop. Once they are empty, I reuse them to stock any kind of food, often my leftovers and even my homemade cosmetics. It’s healthier than plastic, especially when heated.
Pasta & Rice – One of my biggest surprise. It’s actually really difficult to find rice and pasta in other thing than plastic wrapping in Dublin. If rice is sold in cardboard packaging, it mostly means that it comes inside in individual – and thus plasticized – portion. I don’t like this system and it’s not only because it creates waste. I also find that it’s not handy at all as I always burnt my fingers the rare times I used it. I finally found rice in a cardboard box in a supermarket. Same for pasta except that there is a small plastic window in the box. That’s the best I could done. In contrast, flour and sugar are most of the time sold in paper bag, except brown sugar or very specific flour.
Drinks – I was really surprised the system of returnable bottles doesn’t exist in Ireland, at least for beers. In Belgium, every bottle of beer is returnable. You pay an extra 0,15€ when you buy it and you are given it back when you bring the bottle back to the shop. Same system begins to increase in scale for wine and for fruits juice, especially in local products stores. It also exists for milk and water but it’s less common. Here in Ireland, I have no other choice than to buy my milk and fruits juice in tetrabrik. Not the best solution, even if they are recyclable.
I would say as a conclusion that zero-waste shopping is just a matter of habit. Yes, it can be sometimes boring, but just as any other form of shopping can be. I actually never had any problem with that so far. The only thing I do is making sellers puzzled. Usually, when they see me coming at the till with my cloth bags, they don’t know what to do with that. I still don’t know why, but they just assume that I brought that from another shop. In Belgium, sellers are at best glad that people think about the environment and at worst they just don’t say anything and scan the items as any other one.
So don’t hesitate to try! Ask politely, make a big smile and if needed explain your zero-waste approach and people would certainly be happy to please you! There will be hopefully a time when bringing your own bags & containers won’t make you an alien anymore if we are more and more to do it.
My favourite places in Dublin [Map]
Featured image: My Saturday zero-waste shopping at Temple Bar Food Market. Fresh vegetables and potatoes in cloth bags, feta salad and basil pesto served directly in my jars and cheeses in a box. Credit: Marie Daffe
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