Waste has no place at Toronto's Unboxed Market

Shoppers bring their own containers to pick up produce, meat, cheeses and other items

Though small in size, Toronto's Unboxed Market--a 1,500-sq.-ft. zero-waste grocery store that opened in February--thinks big when it comes to sustainability. Nearly all products in the store are package free so customers are asked to bring their own bags or containers (or rent re-usable ones from the store) and encouraged to shop only for what they need (don’t need a dozen eggs? You can buy just one).

“It’s very much how we used to shop,” says Michelle Genttner, who co-owns the shop with her partner Luis Martins. The couple previously ran restaurants, which opened their eyes to the problem of food waste.

At Unboxed Market, Genttner says the aim of the business is “to operate as circular as possible,” which means minimizing waste and maximizing resources. As such, unsold fresh produce heads to the commissary (located in the basement) and gets used in the prepared dishes that appear on the hot table, rather than being tossed out. They also seek out local, like-minded suppliers such as The Spent Goods Company, which upcycles spent brewer's grains into bread and crisps. The store's butcher counter carries meats from local Ontario companies like Rowe Farms that promote sustainable farming.

To reduce single-use packaging, Unboxed Market has a “detergent wall” where shoppers can fill re-usable bottles with shampoo or detergent. There are also olive oil and milk re-fill stations. By Genttner’s calculations, in about one month they helped divert about 1,000 plastic bottles from landfill.

Working with suppliers to come up with less wasteful packaging solutions is also a part of Genttner’s job. Sometimes it takes a conversation with a supplier for them to understand what Unboxed is trying to do, she explains, pointing to a recent exchange with pasta maker Chickapea that led to the company providing another packaging format that Unboxed could accept. “You have to have the conversation or you never find the alternative,” says Genttner.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer's May issue.

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