Opened in 2018 in the residential neighborhood of Ang Mo Kio, UnPackt is Singapore’s first zero-waste store. Its success led the way to the launch of almost a dozen waste-free shops in less than two years in order to meet the demand of an increasingly environmentally conscious population. UnPackt just opened its second location at OUE Downtown Gallery, making zero-waste shopping more accessible within the city center.
UnPackt was founded by former business executives Jeff Lam and Florence Tay. After having seen a program about a grocery store overseas where buyers could purchase items in small quantities, they decided to try implementing a similar concept in Singapore. They saw this as a perfect opportunity to make their contribution toward a greener and more sustainable city.
The shop carries an extensive range of packaging-free items including dried beans, granola, spices, herbs, and snacks like coconut flakes, nut mixes, and vegetable chips. Among the many unpackaged goods that fill the shelves of this bulk store are a few local favorites such as Iced Gem and Khong Guan biscuits. Singaporeans also come here to pick up eggs and honey, along with a broad selection of eco-friendly, plastic-free products for the home and cosmetics ranging from floor and surface cleaners to handmade soap, bamboo toothbrushes, beeswax wraps, and reusable bags.
The owners of UnPackt aim to reduce their environmental impact through zero-packaging, reuse, and recycling. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags and Mason jars to fill with products sold in bulk. Alternatively, they can reuse containers donated by previous customers or sourced by the owners themselves. UnPackt has teamed up with several neighboring cafes and an ice-cream shop to take in their empty milk bottles, for example. Customers are welcome to use them for their purchases and either recycle them at home or return to UnPackt.
For a less wasteful shopping experience, prices are calculated by weight, and buyers are given the possibility to purchase and pay for the quantities they need. This allows for reducing the amount of generated waste, both in terms of food and packaging. UnPackt empowers the customers to make sustainable choices and at the same time addresses the issue of plastic waste in the country—it is estimated that each Singaporean goes through 13 plastic bags a day and the country discards more than 800 million kg of plastic waste per year.
When it comes to sourcing their food items, Lam and Tay work directly with importers. They select the ones who are able to meet their zero-waste demands and supply their refill shop in bulk. As part of their efforts in supporting local businesses, UnPackt purchases most products from local wholesale suppliers, with whom they maintain a close relationship. The eco-enzyme, a multipurpose liquid produced from the fermentation of organic waste, is made in collaboration with ECOSOFTT, a social enterprise focusing on water and environmental challenges and MINDS, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore. Even when, businesswise, it might not always be the cheapest alternative, for UnPack this is a way to give back to the local economy and reduce its carbon footprint.