by Johanna Poblete
NUDE, the Zero Waste Store in Seksyen 19, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia has reimagined the typical supermarket setting into a friendly neighborhood staple as a modern, minimalist, plastic-free zone, where one can find as many package-free items under one roof. Their motto: “Just the Good Stuff–Package Free, Harm Free, Guilt Free.”
Co-founders Cheryl Anne Low and Wilson Chin conceptualized NUDE as a lifestyle store catering to customers who care for the environment and want to minimize their plastic and food waste. Supplies are mainly sourced locally and come in bulk, reusable, and returnable packaging. Store products are sold by the gram and placed in refillable reusables for rent in-store or preferably brought by the customers themselves.
“[Our first proposition was] to give the consumer the choice to have everything they need, without the unnecessary plastic packaging,” Cheryl said. “Secondly, we wanted the consumers to have the choice of buying as much or as little as they actually need, rather than having to buy predetermined sizes, weights, or packages […because] how often have we found bags at the back of our fridge with food that has expired and had to be thrown out?”
While Zero Waste stores are not new in Malaysia, most cater to a niche, premium market or have a limited product catalogue. When NUDE opened in 2018, they targeted the general populace and carried as many of the daily essentials as possible, ranging from Zero Waste lifestyle aids such as menstrual cups, bamboo toothbrushes, and solid toothpaste (“Moods”); to herbs and spices, handmade plain and vegetable pasta, homemade cookies, and local varieties of rice and coffee (“Foods”); to all-natural insect repellents, eco-friendly laundry detergents, and pet shampoo (“Goods”).
“We made it available at one single point—a one-stop Zero Waste shop, if you like—for all your daily needs,” Cheryl said.
The proprietors of NUDE make sure to extensively source quality products that can be sold at affordable price points, thus breaking the perception of Zero Waste being expensive and difficult to adopt.
“Our prices are comparable to, if not better than, supermarket prices, which helps our customers go Zero Waste without burning a hole in their pockets…The fact that you don’t need to buy pre-packaged quantities allows you to dictate exactly how much you need to consume and spend,” Cheryl said.
According to Cheryl, finding quality products that do not harm the earth at reasonable prices requires a lot of research and patience and discussing their advocacy with their suppliers. “Making the suppliers understand the reasons why we would like to buy package-free from them and coming up with workable realistic solutions for both parties is important,” she said, adding that to ensure the quality of the products they carry, they go “into the detail of the ingredients and do research on each of the ingredients,” she added.
No clutching at straws
Plastic use is so pervasive that the average consumer rarely questions the amount of waste generated down the line to allow for a single-use purchase. This same consumer may be unconscious of how plastic, which takes decades to break down, usually overfills dumping grounds and pollutes the ocean.
The catalyst for Cheryl was seeing a video of a plastic straw being painstakingly removed from the nostril of a sea turtle. “Being a scuba diver, it affected me so much that it set me on a frenzy of fact-finding; why and how it could happen. That opened my eyes to what human activity is doing to the world and who suffers the most from it,” she said.
The journey to a Zero Waste lifestyle for Cheryl and her partners started with a refusal to use plastic and eventually led to launching NUDE, just so they could educate more people on the impact of single-use plastic. She considers their customers as “co-passengers” in this journey.
“Expect the unexpected,” says Cheryl, referring to the “back-breaking” labor of the past two years, including ensuring the safety of their customers during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We take their orders and sanitize and refill their containers for them. Before this, it was self-service, where customers were free to browse and make use of the weighing machines to refill their own containers with our guidance and assistance when they needed it.”
NUDE remains focused on servicing the needs of zero waste practitioners and aspirers alike, even as Malaysians become increasingly committed to the lifestyle. “We have seen a massive growth in awareness, as well as eagerness in people about consciously contributing towards the healing of the planet,” says Cheryl, recalling how, in 2018, they would teach children about the concept of Zero Waste store.
“Many children would pop in for biscuits and snacks, so we would teach them to bring their own containers. They would go home, tell their parents, and their curious parents would come visit us. Their praises for what we were doing, in teaching their children about the environment and how something like packaging can be harmful to marine life and animals, were always heartwarming. The parents appreciated what we were doing, and the kids came every day,” she shared.
Now the concept is not so novel, with more Zero Waste stores opening to cater to the burgeoning market. “It is a matter of time before this phenomenon really explodes and the consumers demand more and more zero waste options. Most definitely, this is the way of the future, sooner than later.”
This article is part of the book, BUSINESS UNUSUAL: Enterprises paving the way to Zero Waste, a collection of feature articles on select enterprises in Asia Pacific that practice and promote Zero Waste principles. Published by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, the publication may be downloaded for free at no-burn.org/business-unusual.