Shopping at supermarkets can be stressful. You’re visually bombarded with flash sales and endless rows of goods, all while squeezing past other shoppers in between aisles and being bumped by their baskets or trolleys. More often than not, you end up leaving with way more purchases than you intended to buy in the first place, adding to the pile of goods you already have stacked up in your store room “just in case” you ever run out. To the suppliers, this falsely indicates a constant demand for goods, which in turn leads them to producing even more products, and using more packaging along the way.
At Unpackt, co-founders Florence Tay and Jeff Lam aim to change all of that. Nestled along a row of shops in the quiet Sembawang Hills estate, this two month-old shop is Singapore’s first zero-waste supermarket. What this means is an elimination of waste — namely packaging — along the entire supply chain, from supplier to consumer. On Tay and Lam’s side, they request for suppliers to reuse packaging from their previous bulk purchases. Customers at Unpackt on the other hand, are required to bring their own containers when shopping at Unpackt. For those who’ve forgotten to bring their own containers, fret not, shelves of donated containers are available for use, with new donations always welcome.
Shopping here is simple. Weigh the container that you’ve brought, and start filling it up! Everything from dried goods to household cleaning products and lifestyle goods are available here, nearly all of which are organic, and eco-friendly. Don’t let “organic” put you off though; things like organic chia seeds or quinoa are surprisingly very affordable here at Unpackt as the cost of packaging has been eliminated.
Both Jeff and Florence take the time to chat with customers to advise them the appropriate quantity of goods to buy. In fact, the duo often — counterintuitively — encourage their customers to buy less than what they think they need. Florence explains: “It definitely goes against profit-making sensibilities, but we’d much rather encourage customers to buy what they really need instead of stockpiling everything at home. For example, a customer might come in asking for 200 grams of lentils, but we’ll suggest that they scoop out the lentils themselves and stop at an amount they’re comfortable with, rather than scooping up that 200 grams straightaway. More often than not, customers realise that the amount they really need is far less than what they think they need. A mindful shopping experience, such as one here at Unpackt, helps our customers to save some money, and at the same time, less waste is generated if people are only buying what they really need”.
To the founders of Unpackt, it is practicality that underlies sustainability. Only when clear and immediate benefits – such as saving money – make an impact on customers’ lives, can sustainable living become a long-term journey for their customers. It doesn’t hurt then that Unpackt carries many cost-saving and innovative products that help make the sustainability journey a thoroughly enjoyable one.
What to stock up on:
ecosenses cleaning products
Made in collaboration with MINDS (movement for the the intellectually disabled of Singapore), ecosenses’ cleaning products are formulated with a fruit-based enzyme technology. Unused fruit peels are collected from hawkers, which are then sent to MINDS to ferment – a natural process which results in this chemical-free cleaning liquid that is both gentle on the hands and the environment. Available as a floor cleaner, surface cleaner, and dishwashing liquid.
Another fantastic find at Unpackt, these soap nuts are an eco-friendly alternative to detergent and the likes. Soap nuts are a raw fruit with a naturally occurring soapy property, and clean your clothes well without any of that soapy chemical residue. Soak about 15 soap nuts in 1 litre of water to make a cleaning liquid that is good for four to five loads of laundry. What’s more, these soap nuts are compostable!
Oxymoronic as it might sound, the dried fruits at Unpackt actually taste … fresh. They’re not like the tooth-breaking, wizened ones you typically get at the supermarket (having sat on the shelf for a long time); the dried fruits here are incredibly moist and soft. By buying these dried fruits straight from the supplier and cutting out the packaging process in between, Unpackt helps the dried fruits reach the consumer much quicker, in turn allowing the fruits to stay fresher. The dried fruits selection at Unpackt also moves pretty quickly each week, so you can be sure that you’re always getting a fresh batch here. Mulberries; sundried tomatoes; prunes; figs, and apricots are some of the dried fruits available here.
Customise your own tea blend with the loose leaf teas sold at Unpackt. What’s even better is being able to try if that blend works by brewing your own tea in the store (just ask Florence or Jeff for some hot water!). In fact, coffee drinkers can also help themselves to the in-store coffee grinder, french press, and espresso machine after purchasing their coffee beans. A long communal table sits in the middle of the store, perfect for enjoying that freshly-brewed cup of tea and for chatting with other customers. As Jeff jokes, Unpackt is also the perfect breakfast spot – just bring your own container with some milk or yoghurt, buy some of the store’s granola, make a cup of coffee, and you’re set for the day.
Unpackt is located at 6 Jalan Kuras, Singapore 577724. Tel: +65 8518 0372. Website here