Green, Kind and Zero Waste: the Rise of the Ethical Supermarket


Inside the stores that are banishing plastic, fighting food waste and feeding the hungry

Around the world, a new wave of low-impact supermarkets are ripping up the rulebook, encouraging us to rethink how we consume products and engage with our local public spaces.

The pioneers behind these grassroots enterprises are seeking a new economic model, one that champions community, embraces the environment and swaps mindless consumerism for kindness and compassion.

You won’t get any wastage, high food miles, unethical practices, plastic bags or tills nagging about ‘unexpected items in bagging areas,’ here.


British supermarkets throw away at least 115,000 tonnes of perfectly good food every year, while more than 8 million people struggle to put food on the table. Tackling this shameful paradox is the Real Junk Food Project. For the last 4 years, they’ve been making sure food gets into the hands of the hungry, rather than the bottom of the bin.

After launching a network of volunteer-led, pay-as-you-feel cafes, they’ve now expanded their surplus-saving model to the shop floor, opening one of the first food waste supermarkets, in a warehouse in Leeds. Although the ‘anti-supermarket’ principally helps those on low incomes, they believe it should be available for everyone.

“We don’t stigmatise anybody,” says the project’s founder Adam Smith. “We have an inclusive environment for anybody who wants to come in. Because what we’re offering is a human right.”

Danish supermarket, Wefood is providing a similar service. They have been selling donated surplus items 30 to 50 percent cheaper than normal supermarkets. Since opening in January of this year, it has proved to be a huge success, capturing the hearts, minds and mouths of the Danish public. They even plan to open two more stores very soon.

“Many people see this as a positive and politically correct way to approach the issue of food waste,” says Per Bjerre, the man behind the operation.

Bring your own

If the recent plastic bag charge in the UK is anything to go by (usage has dropped by more than 85%) it reveals that significant shifts in consumer behaviour, en masse, are possible.

In Berlin, crowdfunded zero waste supermarket Original Unverpackt are taking things to the next level. Everything they stock — from soap, wine, pasta, toothpaste, etc — is sold in large containers. Shoppers are encouraged to eschew unnecessary packaging by filling their own reusable jars and tote bags.

Day-by-Day, a small chain of stores in France, have also pursued this bulk-buying, ‘pre-cycling’ model — eliminating waste before it’s even been created, and Brooklyn-based, The Fillery, promises groceries that are ‘good for the pantry and planet’.

“Our main objective is to reduce packaging and food waste,” says The Fillery founder, Sara Metz. “We want to provide our community, not just with the tools to live more sustainably and more healthily, but also the understanding of how to do so effectively”

Community first

In an era of online shopping and self-service check-outs, mainstream supermarkets have swiftly become charmless vacuums of chore and necessity. With many physical places of connection closing down, supermarkets could have the capacity to generate social value and strengthen communities. These new stores are unlocking that potential.

“We believe that if you put good things into the earth, you will get good things out of it,” says Crystal Lehky, the owner of ethical supermarket, Green. “The same goes for putting good things into your local community, your family, neighbours, local business, and surroundings, good things will grow there too.’

Brighton supermarket, hisBe, serves ‘the interests of the people and community first’ functioning as a community interest company. This means all their profits are used for community benefit rather than private advantage.

From supporting local suppliers to running inclusive workshops, events and screenings, these stores are turning passive consumption into active participation, where customers can meet and mingle.

Do these stores have the potential to compete with the retail giants? Have we forgotten any? Comment below and let us know.

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