Happy Plastic Free July! Wouldn’t it be great if every month and every shopping trip was plastic free? Well, this post gives us a glimpse into what is possible if we focus a more on sustainable living and a less on convenience! Here is my review of Waitrose Unpacked. Lucy and I are lucky enough to live close to the 11 week trial happening at the Oxford Botley Rd. Waitrose. Over 130 items are available package free including loose produce, bulk bins, wine on tap, and plastic free flowers. We decided to check it out, and here are my thoughts!
For more posts on plastic free living see:
Shopping Low Waste
First, I should note that we already shop “low waste” at our local Waitrose by simply choosing the loose produce from a limited selection, and opting for items in tins, cardboard, or glass. We also regularly shop at a local farm shop/zero waste shop where we get refills on laundry soap, washing up liquid, and bulk food items. Still, we wanted to show our support, and I really hope they roll out this initiative to all stores since sustainable, plastic free shopping should be the norm!
Kudos to Waitrose for making the store look so beautiful. They have tasteful displays of glass jars, and rows upon rows of fresh fruits and veg shining in all their package-free glory. I liked how the “unpacked” experience was incorporated throughout the store, not just relegated to a corner.
Waitrose was clever in how they organised the produce section. They clearly marked which produce needed to be weighed, and which are marked as price per item. Unfortunately, we did find at the check out that some of our loose produce were weighed anyways which was confusing, but I think that was down to individual staff training.
The scales were extremely easy to use (some of them were out of service) and I’d say it took about 5 seconds to select the item picture, and print the label. Don’t know how to prepare the vegetables you’ve bought? No problem, the back of the store has a staffed prep area where someone can help you!
They have compostable bags for the produce (though I really don’t think these are the best solution), but I did appreciate the paper bags in the bulk bin section, as we had used up our Tupperware and cloth bags stocking up on produce and bulk coffee beans! In the bulk bin section, it’s easy to weigh your empty container – you get a label with a bar code and after you fill it up the scales allow you to scan your “tare” barcode and subtract the weight of your container so that you only pay for the food. Same goes for the paper bags supplied – the scale knows to subtract the weight of a small or large paper bag.
There were also lots of staff members around to help – even at 8pm on a Saturday night.
As I mentioned above, we already buy most of our produce loose. The difference here was that we were able to buy a much greater variety of produce without plastic. For example, we picked up lettuce, snap peas, green beans, shitake mushrooms and red delicious apples – items were can only ever find in plastic.
The biggest surprise for me was seeing what looked like a pile of twigs, when it was in fact salsify root (apparently this root can be boiled and tastes like oysters). I’d only ever heard about it in the context of medicinal use in 18th C. recipe books! The only item that was sold out on a Saturday evening were cucumbers, so Waitrose is doing a great job keeping their stocks replenished.
One of Waitrose’s objectives was ensuring that the bulk dried “essentials” were cheaper than when bought in packaging. We bought about 1 weeks’ worth of produce and stocked up on coffee, rice, muesli, black beans, and dried mango, which will last us maybe 1 month all for around £45. As a point of clarification, the items available in bulk are Waitrose own brand.
By far I think the best invention are the cardboard punnets and lids for the tomatoes and berries. The produce was in better condition than when I buy punnets of raspberries in plastic packaging. Wine on tap and pick-and-mix frozen fruit are also pretty neat.
Anyways, if you’re in the UK and are interested in what the unpacked experience is like, then I hope this post was useful. If you live elsewhere, are your grocery stores doing similar trials? Do you have access to bulk bins and plastic free produce at an affordable price? I hope you’ve found this review of Waitrose Unpacked helpful.
Update December 2020: We continue to shop at Waitrose unpacked and use the refills, and purchase loose produce when available during the pandemic.