Americans are discovering zero waste stores
< /p> UPDATE DAY
Toothpaste tablets pulled from a jar, maple syrup pouring out of a spout, dishwashing powder bought with a ladle: in the United States, the bulk sale is gaining followers.
At the Mason & Greens of Washington, customers bring their own plastic bags or containers to fill with items sold without wrappers.
Years after a similar movement took off in Europe, this is new trend in the United States, and the concept is spreading to several major cities across the country.
In the store in the capital, “people even came to fill the packaging of their newspapers”, enthuses Anna Marino, the 34-year-old boss.
This type of store is necessary, according to experts, to drive behavioral change in the world's largest economy. Americans produce an average of 2.2 kg of waste per day, compared to an average of 1.4 in Europe, according to official statistics.
Anna Marino's goal is to help everyone get closer to zero waste. For her and her family, the first target was paper towels.
Its abandonment “resulted in a significant drop in our daily waste”, explains the founder of Mason & Greens with her husband in 2020.
There they sell beans, oatmeal and other bulk goods from vending machines on the walls, alongside large cans of oil and vinegar. On the shelves are other curiosities: unpackaged bread and vegetables, unlike the custom in the United States.
Anna Marino says she tries to avoid “exorbitant prices” to maintain her store “accessible.”
In the United States, less than a third of household waste (and 9% of plastics) is recycled or composted – compared to 49% in Europe. And on average, each American generates 130 kilos of plastic waste per year, compared to 43 kilos for the French.
These statistics also push Anna Marino to ask her suppliers to use as little packaging as possible.
“We will not get out of the plastic crisis through recycling,” warns Jenny Gitlitz, from the organization Beyond Plastics, which fights against their pollution.
She mentions the harmful effects of plastic on health: carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, etc. .
Added to this is pollution in the environment, with microplastic particles found all over the planet, from the Mariana Trench to the summit of Everest – to human blood.
At the Unlike aluminum and glass, for example, plastics cannot be recycled over and over again, their structure gradually degrading.
In addition, the recycling of many types of plastics is complex. This should only be a last resort, says Shelie Miller of the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability.
“I worry that too often people go straight to recycling without thinking about reducing and reusing,” she told AFP.
The the professor warns that the actions of individuals or small shops will not be enough to upend the system.
Making such changes work for a more sustainable future is a “fully shared responsibility” between companies, authorities and waste managers, she insists.
At another Washington-area store, Emoke Gaidosch pours liquid soap into a large container. The company she co-runs, FullFillery, sells many of its own cosmetics locally.
“We want to do as much reuse as possible, because recycling still has a massive carbon footprint,” says Rini Saha, head of the store.
And buying in bulk has another environmental benefit, says Professor Miller: you buy only the quantities you need.
Proof of the success of this type of store in Washington, FullFillery has left the outdoor markets of its beginnings to settle in a real store. And Mason & Greens already has two stores.
The model “is profitable,” says Rini Saha.
Maybe not as much as a packaging store, “but I think it's inevitable, we have no choice, ”she says. “The sector has to go through this.”