Are you that person who always brings a reusable bag shopping? Does the plastic wrapped fruit and veg at the supermarket make you cringe? Then you’re probably familiar with the zero waste movement, and know that Tokyo is not the easiest place to practice a zero waste lifestyle. But things are changing — slowly — and we’re here with the low down on how to go zero waste in Tokyo.
What is ‘zero waste’?
The goal of zero waste as a whole is to create a society where nothing goes to landfill — or in Japan’s case to the furnace — because these systems have terrible environmental consequences. Sounds great, right? But for those who are new to ‘zero waste’, it can seem intimidating so let’s break it down a little. While the ultimate goal is zero waste for all of society, for individuals you start with small steps, like using reusable shopping bags and water bottles.
Buying a reusable bag or water bottle might not seem very ‘cheapo’, but it’s an investment. The ¥5 per plastic bag, or ¥110 for a bottle of water adds up over time — and so does the waste. Of course, if you’ve got some old plastic bags or PET bottles lying around your apartment, you can start with reusing those. Part of zero waste is avoiding buying new things if you have something already that will do the job.
What is zero waste shopping?
Zero waste shopping is basically the next step on the zero waste journey. It’s about trying to buy things in a way that will create zero (or minimal) extra trash. For example buying things without unnecessary packaging. This is where things get harder, especially in Japan — looking at you plastic wrapped fruit.
Zero waste shops are becoming more popular overseas, and are slowly taking off here in Japan too with Totoya — Japan’s first zero waste supermarket — openning in Kyoto in 2021. Here in Tokyo we don’t have any zero waste supermarkets like Totoya (yet) but we have a steadily growing list of options that we can get started with. But before we get into them, let’s talk about the how.
How does zero waste shopping work?
We’re not gonna lie, zero waste shopping takes a little more effort than popping down to the convenience store. You’ll need to remember to bring a reusable bag, and sometimes your own container too. You might need to travel to a specfic shop and you’ll also have to think more carefully about what you’re buying — are you really going to be able to eat an entire box of oranges before they go bad?
With all that in mind, let’s go shopping!
Zero waste grocery shopping in Tokyo
Like we said before, Tokyo’s a bit behind the game with zero waste supermarkets, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t shops and businesses out there doing their bit.
Plastic-free, organic, seasonal fruit and vegetables delivered to your door with a great English website. No seriously, Farm Fresh ticks all the boxes. They offer subscription boxes in various sizes for delivery once or twice a month. Fussy eater? No worries, log in to the website and set your preferences for the next delivery. Prices start at ¥3,500 for a small box once a month, containing 5-6 different kinds of vegetables — some of which can be hard to find in regular supermarkets.
Check out their website here for more information.
Muji (Ariake Garden)
The largest Muji store has a bulk buy/pay-by-weight (量り売り hakariuri) section! Located in the Ariake Garden shopping complex the pay-by-weight section is on the first floor. There are a few different pantry items available including dried fruit, nuts, unique varieties of rice and coffee beans. Here’s a quick break down of how it works:
- Take one of the paper bags provided and fill it with the product you’d like — 1 product per bag
- Write the product number on the paper bag
- Take your bag(s) to the label printer, put the bag on the scale and enter the item number
- The machine with calculate the price and it’ll print out a label
- Stick the label on the bag, and bring it with you to the counter outside to pay
Unfortunately they don’t allow you to use your own containers, but paper bags are provided for free.
More information about what this Muji store has to offer can be found here.
This brand of cleaning and laundry products maybe familiar to some, but did you know that many of their branches have refill stations? While not all Ecostore products are available at the refill stations, you can get everything you need from laundry liquid to body wash. Bring a bottle (doesn’t have to be Ecostore brand) and the staff will take care of the rest, just let them know what you’d like and how much.
For the full list of locations where you can find Ecostore refill stations head here.
So this isn’t a shop exactly, but this multilingual community is dedicated to making eco-friendly lifestyles easier for people in Japan by spreading information and resources. Their crowd sourced eco-map is a holy grail tier list of shops and businesses that fit into the sustainability space — you can filter by shop type or sustainability criteria. They also run eco shop-alongs in different Tokyo neighborhoods most months.
Ekolokal even have their own vegan cafe, Slow ecolab, where they have delicious food (seriously, the cookies are to die for), host events like swap meets, and even have a small pay-by-weight corner. If you want to buy some dried chickpeas or kidney beans bring a container (the Ekolokal team recommend these foldable ones) and talk to the staff at the counter.
Zero waste tip from Ekolokal: Small local shops are often open to zero waste shopping, especially those that sell bread, rice and tofu — don’t be afraid to ask!
Some final tips
If you’re interested in making a transition to a zero waste lifestyle, you might have come across products like bamboo toothbrushes and beeswax wraps. While they definitely are better for the environment, remember only buy what you need! So if you have a whole packet of plastic toothbrushes, use them up first, then restock with bamboo ones. Where do you get these products though? Ethical Conveni (located in Aoyama) and Minimal Living Tokyo (online) are good places to start.
Another zero waste tip is to shop secondhand or swap items, instead of buying new. Recycle shops and fleamarkets are great places to start. Also keep your eye out for swap meet events by Sustainable Living Tokyo and ‘Responsible’ markets run by Impact Hub.
Finally, remember that zero waste isn’t all or nothing. A common saying in the zero waste community is that it’s better for lots of people to do zero waste imperfectly, than for 1 person to do it perfectly.