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Sustainable Living

mason jars not required

UnPackt — Singapore's First Package-free Store

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Unpackt

No plastic bag necessary, thanks!

When Singapore's first package-free store opened last month, I didn't hear about it through friends or social media. Instead, the news came from the wisest of them all — mum. She read about UnPackt in the newspaper, promptly informed me, and I visited the store a few weeks later. Florence Tay, one of the co-founders, was around and happily chatted to me as visitors drifted in and out.

Tears & Fears

"I think what we were most afraid of was if we wanted to term it a 'zero-waste store,' because it is a very defined term and sets a lot of expectations. What we would like to share with everybody is that everyone can work towards that goal together. So actually, our brand name Unpackt has the meaning of 'unpack' and you [the customer] make a pact to a journey together."

On (her lack of) eco-anxiety

"I don't feel that. For me, I feel that everyone can do small little steps, whatever they are comfortable with. At least one small step at a time is better than nothing at all. Let's say you look at it with a longer-term plan — you choose one product a year to switch and you slowly switch. You can actually see results. It's cumulative, rather than in one shot you start to take out a lot of items and feel that it's a very tough journey. And then you give up."

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Goals for the rest of the year

"Currently, we are trying to stabilize operations and we are considering bringing in fresh foods and produce that is unpackaged from local farms. We try to work as much as possible towards a one-stop zero-waste grocery and lifestyle store. Especially for the younger customers who are not shopping for their groceries, they can pick up some lifestyle [items] and snacks, and build a habit."

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Although most people seem to be attracted to UnPackt for its unpackaged goods, the founders aim for UnPackt to be more than a store selling eco-friendly products.

"We wanted to open this store more as a community awareness platform and sustainable social enterprise income model."

This currently means educating the next generation by conducting tours for children as well as future plans to convert a spare room into a playroom for single parent employees.

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My first package-free purchase was dishwash. I simply followed the signs posted throughout the store: weight your container and write down the tare weight using the provided markers, fill up your clean container with as little or as much product as you desire, present your filled container to the cashier, and pay! Also, if math is "not your thing," fear not! The scale/cash register/cashier will calculate everything, break down each item, and tell you what the total amount is.

I prepared my empty dishwash container beforehand and expected the wash to cost around $3/4. UnPackt's dishwash cost $2.17, $1.73 less than my old go-to, Bio-home.

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Although the Ecosoft dishwash is a little runny, I've been using it for a few weeks and it does work on grease. The wash's natural fizzy orange/eco-enzyme fragrance isn't overwhelming and the dish wash could be a gentler option for those with sensitive skin.

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My second purchase was the (umami) bomb: dried tomatoes. Although the Ecosoft dishwash confirmed that unpackaged goods could be more affordable, I was more than surprised to pay only $1.15 for a jarful. Unpackt unit price: $1.40/100gm, Seeds of Joy unit price: $3.60/100gm.

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Remember the last time you watched an amazing cooking video on Youtube (Binging with Babish is the best!) and immediately bought every single obscure ingredient just for one recipe? Fast forward a year later and it's 11 pm, you're frantically cleaning out the fridge before your mother visits tomorrow, and you rediscover those long-forgotten ingredients. They are 3/4 unused, expired, and have nowhere to go but the trash. I've been guilty of this many times over, and it needs to stop. Buy what you need, use it all, and end food waste.

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My third and final purchase were vegetable chips. It cost way more than I expected at $8.65. To be fair, veggie chips are generally pricey and I was too excited at the prospect of eating said chips to pay attention to the unit price. Unpackt's unit price: $4.75/100gm, Seeds of Joy unit price: $4/100gm.

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So should you visit UnPackt?

Yes, and you should invite someone along because we can all learn to shop more mindfully. It's going to take extra effort because the store isn't extremely easy to get to and I can't guarantee that everything there is cheaper than supermarket prices! But one visit doesn't lock you into a lifetime membership, and you can take this moment to reflect on what is sacrificed in order to make our current lifestyles so convenient. Just bring your best attitude, questions, and clean containers (plastic tupperwares are a-okay)!

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