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Zero-waste shops: How to navigate a refillery in 5 easy steps

Food and drink journalist Karla Sinclair.

How do I navigate my way around a zero-waste shop? A question I have asked myself time, and time again over the years.

I’d love to make local zero-waste store visits part of my routine, but because I haven’t the faintest idea about what to do when inside one, I’m always put off.

They’re constantly sprouting up across the north, north-east, Tayside, Fife and Angus and have so many benefits such as reducing food waste and promoting healthy, whole food diets.

Inside Refillosophy, on Albyn Grove.

How do I use a zero-waste shop?

Zero-waste shops encourage people to live a more zero-waste lifestyle by eliminating packaging and asking customers to bring their own reusable, recyclable or returnable containers from home to fill and refill with wholefoods and cleaning and beauty products.

These products, which range from lentils and pumpkin seeds to granola and chocolate, are displayed in a variety of gravity dispensers for you to choose from.

You can sometimes spy a range of fresh fruits and vegetables and home bakes, too.

To make life that little bit easier for you, I decided to head over to Refillosophy, on Albyn Grove in Aberdeen, to speak with owner Gina Adie about the benefits of zero-waste shops and what to do when visiting one.

1. Bring reusable containers

A key point to mention before setting foot inside a zero-waste store is to remember your containers. It may be obvious to some, but for others – like myself – it’s something that’s easy to forget for rookies in the zero-waste shop game.

They can be mason jars, plastic containers, old jam jars and milk bottles, thermos flasks, cloth bags. You name it, and you’re likely to be able to put it to good use.

One of the key ways to live a more zero-waste lifestyle is through eliminating packaging, so using containers from home to fill and refill is key.

Empty containers.

2. Weigh your empty containers

Once you have your empty reusable, recyclable or returnable packaging, you can start weighing them (one at a time, of course).

You then take a note of what each one weighs. At Refillosophy, this involves you writing it on a sticky note and sticking it to the container.

This method varies at different stores, with some asking you to simply write the amount onto the container or keep a note of it elsewhere – for example, on your Notes app or in a notebook – but all are straightfoward.

3. Fill your containers

From here, you can fill your container with anything you need, making sure to avoid adding multiple different products that are priced differently.

Examples of what you’ll find at a zero-waste store include:

  • Pasta and rice
  • Beans, grains and pulses
  • Herbs and spices
  • Cereals
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coffee
  • Dried fruit
  • Oil and vinegar
The stores boast rows of dispensers to choose from.

4. Weigh your full containers

Once your containers are full of your desired products, you can proceed to weigh them and, again, take a note of the weight.

You might need to skip this step if your store does this at checkout, but some require you to do this yourself.

5. Checkout

Before heading off, take your filled containers to the checkout and make the payment.

Now you should feel confident venturing to local zero-waste shops to pick up a variety of items.

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