Lauren Singer's Brooklyn-based shop now has an expansive online store as well.
Back in May 2017, I visited the Package-Free Shop in Brooklyn with TreeHugger's managing editor Melissa. It was still in its infancy, just a pop-up shop, albeit a beautiful one! Never before had I seen shelves full of so many plastic-free, bare-naked products made from natural materials. It was thrilling and hopeful, a sign of what retail could become if we dare to think outside the box.
The Package-Free experiment was so successful that its pop-up status has now become permanent. Founded and run by Lauren Singer – who first became noted in the zero waste world for her blog, Trash Is For Tossers, and who keeps all the trash she has produced over the past five years in a 16oz glass jar – the store has expanded online, while maintaining its brick-and-mortar location in Brooklyn.The online store is large and comprehensive. You can get anything from natural silk dental floss and plastic-free paper planners to natural rubber teething toys and biodegradable vibrators. For zero waste newbies, there are clever pre-packed kits for oral hygiene, shaving, eating on the go, grocery shopping, dealing with one's menstrual cycle, traveling, and housecleaning.
While the majority of items are unpackaged, some do require packaging of some kind, i.e. toothbrushes and menstrual cups, as mandated by the FDA. As the website explains, "We only sell and send products in packaging if the packaging is 100% recyclable and/or compostable and/or legally necessary." When you order online, everything is shipped plastic-free in a box that is upcycled or made from entirely recycled post-consumer material, with paper padding and tape.
What sets Package-Free apart from other online stores is that it doesn't offer returns. This makes a lot of sense from an environmental standpoint. Online returns are a serious problem for the planet. From the website:
"Reverse logistics (or returns) generates 5 billion pounds of landfill waste per year in the U.S. In the return process, trucks burn roughly 1.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, resulting in 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In 2017, 11.3 percent of all purchases were returned, amounting to $380 billion worth of goods.
"We believe that the 'shop online in excess because returns are free' culture is the real issue here and that we should only buy what we have really researched. Our advice? Learn to be a smarter online shopper."
It's interesting to imagine how different our consumerist culture would be if online returns were not possible. Just think how cautious people would be about doing their research and getting proper body measurements prior to ordering. I wonder if this is something we'll be seeing more of, as people understand the truth about online returns and businesses no longer want to take the financial hit. I think it's great that Package-Free takes an unconventional stand on this.
There is a perk, though – free shipping in the U.S. for orders over $25 – and it won't take you long to hit that number with all the beautiful things on this website.
As I've said before on this site, going zero waste and/or plastic-free should not be an excuse to shop for new containers and tools, as you really can make do with many things that are already lying around your house. But when the time comes for an upgrade, sites like the Package-Free Shop (and Life Without Plastic in Canada) are great resources to have.