Waste and brand audits in different parts of the world reveal that in almost all cases the highest percentage of the non-compostable waste fraction is primary and secondary plastic packaging. The sheer volume of plastic waste generated, its resistance to decomposition, and its flexibility as a material also makes it a most problematic waste stream. Thus, at the level of the United Nations, plastic pollution is being described as a global crisis and estimates that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the world’s oceans.

In response to this gargantuan plastic pollution problem, one of the actions being taken by individuals, social entrepreneurs and environmentally-aware communities is setting up zero waste stores and markets. They are popping up in many places around the world. It seems like a novel idea especially to this generation of millennials who were born in the era of a plastic packaging boom and may know very little of the life just two or three generations before them. Back then, in the Philippines, produce came in jute or cotton sacks or huge baskets. Wet goods or other food items were wrapped in leaves or paper. Cooking oil, soy sauce or other liquid products were purchased from the neighborhood store with the buyer bringing a container and filled up depending on the volume needed. Beverages also came in returnable bottles with or without a deposit scheme.

Today, some local government units have started to ban or restrict certain types of plastic. However, in order for these policies to work, they need to ensure the availability of alternative materials and systems apart from a massive information campaign and strict enforcement. San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, the Municipality of Dumingag in Zamboanga del Sur or the Province of Siquijor are just a few examples of these localities that not only ban or restricts plastic bag use but also reintroduced package-free products and use of traditional packaging materials like leaves, baskets and other containers or carriers made of indigenous and/or biodegradable materials.         

In 2018, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region III also launched a program called Refill Revolution where a refilling station for cooking oil, fish sauce, soy sauce and the like is set up in a pre-identified community for the day. This is in partnership with companies that sell such products. While the Department admits that this effort is extremely limited, it raises awareness on the possibility of a no-plastic option for consumers.    

The private sector is also responding by investing in small zero waste shops usually in their own communities. In the Philippines, the number is increasing. The same is happening in the rest of the Asian region. Many are social enterprises that partner with local or indigenous communities, selling produce or products unpackaged or with minimal packaging for hygienic purposes and are usually set up with refill or reuse systems. Some also sell basic pantry staples, organic or natural personal-care or household cleaning products, reusable straws, cutlery, containers, diapers, pantyliners and so on. The shops listed below are among the growing number of stores or online shopping sites that offer package-free products.

Store Name Location
Philippines
Ritual Makati City
Humble Market Mandaluyong City
Zero Waste Shop Bacoor, Cavite
Got Heart Shop Quezon City
Happy Earth Zero Waste Store Cagayan de Oro City
JuanaZero Quezon City
Girl and the Outdoors Quezon City
Croft Bulk Foods Davao City
Wala Usik Tiangge/Kapehan Bago City, Negros Occidental
JuanaZero Quezon City
SiereZa Los Banos
The Alternative Online
Other Parts of Asia and the Pacific
Unpackt Singapore
The Zero Ways Singapore
Eco.Le Singapore
The Green Collective Singapore
Avo & Co. Singapore
The Hive Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Coconam Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ecoposro Goa, India
Bare Necessities Bangalore, India
Zero Waste Bali Bali, Indonesia
Mini Muncher and Kids Food and Zero Waste Bulk Food Store Bali, Indonesia
The Bulk Store Beijing, China
Live Zero Hongkong but also ships worldwide for online orders
Frangipani (online) Ships to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hongkong, Brunei, New Zealand and Australia
Zero Waste Store (online) Ships worldwide from Australia