On Sunday, May 19th some curious and enthusiastic members of ecoCaledon’s Gratitude for Food group ventured into Toronto’s west end to explore the recently opened zero-waste grocery store Unboxed, located at 1263 Dundas Street West in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood. We were disappointed to have to leave fellow member Lu behind, but her toddler was nursing a high fever. She insisted we carry on with the planned excursion without her, with a request to scout out the store and bring her back “Beyond Meat” burgers from a nearby vegan butcher.
After finding parking on Dundas St. W we began to excitedly count out the numbered buildings toward our destination, but that quickly gave way to animated chatter about what items we were looking to find in the store and where we wanted to go for lunch, and before we knew it we looked up and realized we had walked right past the store! Doubling back a couple blocks and laughing out loud at our mistake, we entered Unboxed and prepared to start our zero-waste shopping experience.
Each of us arrived having already begun to follow a zero-waste lifestyle to some degree. We all shun the use of single-use plastics and therefore had come armed with an array of our own reusable produce bags and an assortment of glass containers to fill with whatever goodies we chose to buy.
The store is not large but makes efficient and creative use of its space. We were immediately drawn to the display near the front that offers personal care and household cleaning products in bulk. A couple of us stocked up on the liquid dish soap. They sell a variety of refillable containers for those who forget to bring their own. I deliberated for almost ten minutes over which zero waste vegan dental floss to buy (Would it get caught in my teeth? No it doesn’t, by the way!) before finally settling on a Canadian made product called Flosspot from KMH Touches. There were cute bamboo toothbrushes for sale too, and toothpaste in recyclable glass jars.
One wall of the store contained a wide variety of fresh produce, all refreshingly unpackaged of course. How often do you ever see grapes for sale without those crinkly bags that cannot be recycled? At Unboxed you can find naked grapes! The salad greens are also unboxed – you simply scoop them into your produce bag and take what you need home. No need to buy huge amounts that are likely to wilt in your fridge.
In fact, that is the main raison d’etre for Unboxed. Michelle Genttner and Luis Martins were inspired to open the store out of a desire to help curb not only the problem of excess packaging of our food but also the disturbing issue of food waste. By buying at Unboxed you avoid packaging, and even more importantly you can also choose the quantities of the food you buy, allowing you to better plan your meals. This
means less food wasted in your home, and less avoidable food waste going to compost or landfill which translates into fewer harmful greenhouse gases going into our environment.
The rest of the store has a comprehensive selection of products that includes dry good items like grains, coffee, tea, cereals (even some popular Kellog’s brands like Vector!), dried fruit and legumes, etc. Silvana caught my eye as she was scooping up something that looked like jumbo dried lima beans into her bag. She explained to me they were fava beans and that they were delicious cooked with tomatoes, onions and dandelion greens. Soon each of us had a bag of dried fava beans in our baskets! Unboxed also has a meat selection that aims to promote locally raised products as much as possible. There are bakery products too – they carry bread and crackers made from a company called Spent Goods who source some of their ingredients from leftover barley grains from the beer brewing process. Unboxed also has a café to enjoy a coffee in your own mug. They also offer baked treats made in-house.
If you are at all curious about the zero-waste lifestyle or just feel like taking a drive into a really vibrant and lively part of Toronto, I highly recommend a trip to Unboxed. Bring your reusable bags and containers and an open mind. As the GTA’s first zero-waste grocery store, Unboxed won’t disappoint. As you complete your plastic-free, package-free shopping experience you will realize that some changes really aren’t so hard to make. Some changes can actually be fun. Let’s hope the zero-waste movement leads to more stores like Unboxed opening in Caledon. In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if our existing stores would tell their suppliers to cut back on their plastic packaging. If grocery stores insist on less packaging it forces the food producers to change. And that means more naked grapes…and less plastic packaging in our landfills!
If you would like to add your voice to push supermarkets to use less plastic packaging you can go to https://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/act/break-free-from-plastic/ and join a Greenpeace initiative.
Caledon East, Ontario
Member of ecoCaledon and Gratitude for Food