From the pop-up shop opening in 2017 to the setting up of the first fully plastic-free store in London in July 2018 thanks to the economic support gained through a successful fundraising campaign. Ingrid Caldironi is the mind (and heart, and soul) behind the success of Bulk Market®, London’s first zero waste shop. Young, determined and ambitious, we’ve spoken with Caldironi from her store in Bohemia Place right before the launch of the new permanent shop at the end of July.

A background in retail marketing, before launching Bulk Market®, Caldironi had worked for a top 7 Fortune’s Global 500 company. We’ve asked the young entrepreneur what she thinks about plastic pollution, waste-free lifestyle and her committment to helping others follow her model.

What inspired you to open the first plastic-free shop in London?

Bulk Market® was born more out of necessity. I’ve been struggling with my weekly shop since I’ve gone zero waste–in London, you can’t find everything in only one place, you need to travel to several places to be able to stock your fridge and cupboard, and I was so tired of that. At work I also felt that nobody was really sharing the same concerns with environment as I do, and I had this strong gut feeling that I should do something which I truly believe in.

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Tell us more about your dream to open a store like Bulk Market. How did this come into being?

“I pretty much planned and kicked off the project alone, but right after opening I drew Bruna [Martins, co-founder at Bulk Market] in as Operations Manager. She got so involved in the whole process and became such an important person (really hands on and helping me with every single thing!) that she’s now a co-founder and will be officially part of the board of directors soon. So now we are one punk, one hippie and a dog!

“We’re planning to reopen in late July–time is flying by and we’re getting ready for  the big day. We’ve started the refurb and fit out at the beginning of this month: we’re excited to see how things are starting to shape up and we’re looking forward to sharing this with our customers and friends.”


A zero-waste supermarket in the heart of London: what do you hope to achieve with this project?

“I am really ambitious. The first obvious goal of Bulk Market® is to have a one-stop-shop for refills, helping people to reduce and reuse packaging to ultimately divert it from landfills.

“The second one is making zero waste lifestyle something more accessible for everyone. This shouldn’t really be a niche thing only for people who can afford it. One of the biggest issues is affordability of organic fresh veg and fruit. My solution to this is sourcing products locally from urban and community farms (London has the biggest concentration of city and community farms of any UK cities), so fruit and veg won’t travel from far, will be seasonal, won’t come heavily packaged and can be more affordable. Plus, the money will be kept within the neighbourhood.

“The third point is taking care of the end-life of the products I will be supplying. So I will be offering a free of charge community composting scheme, something which cities like New York and San Francisco already do: people can freeze their food scraps and bring it to a drop off point at the store. I will have a commercial composter on site, which will transform all those scraps into rich soil, which will then be made available for free to people willing to grow their own food.”

A soft-launch in 2017, a successful crowd-funding campaign and the opening of a permanent Bulk Market® shop less than one year later.

What’s in store for the future?

“My aim is to reconnect people with food.

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“To reconnect people with nature and with the process behind the actual, natural production of food, I am now looking at the possibility to have a working beehive on site, producing honey made from local Hackney bees. People will be able to visit the hive and see the hard work involved in making food! Unfortunately, we won’t be able to have this on site at our store for our reopening–things have slowed down a bit as the logistics of it proved to be too complicated for the space we have secured. But we will still have a bee friendly garden to help Hackney bees with forage, and a ‘pay as you feel’ herb garden.”

This sounds amazing. But what do you think still needs to be done to change people’s mentality and approach to food?

“There are issues from different fronts. We have a behavioural issue, a throwaway culture that is addicted to cheap/disposable things, and based heavily on convenience.

“People need to understand that there is a true cost for everything we consume, either social or environmental.

“Businesses like mine can make a dent on this problem. It’s difficult to expect people to change behaviour if that is ‘too much effort‘ for them. Retailers really need to make this as easy for consumer as possible, and that’s my biggest aim.

“There’s also an issue with public policies. Our government doesn’t put the burden on recycling and recovering materials on the manufacturers, but on us instead. We pay with our taxes to haul, ship, burn and dispose of the rubbish created by the industry. I see packaging as part of the product and who makes the product should be responsible for the disposal of it.

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Going plastic-free: how difficult is it to stick to a zero-waste lifestyle? Tell us about your typical day. What’s  the biggest difficulty you regularly encounter and what do you think we’d need to do to end plastic pollution  “for good?”

“Well, if I don’t have meetings early in the morning and I can have breakfast at home, I make coffee using my trusted Italian moka (no coffee pods!). I take a cotton string bag to the shop down the road to buy my morning pastry. I usually have few coffees during the day, so I always take with me a reusable coffee cup. Most of the main high street cafes give discounts when you bring your own cup (some of them even give you 50p off!), so it is a win-win.

“If I am getting take-away lunch, I ask the staff to serve me in my own container (I carry a small metal lunchbox in my bag) and I also carry a reusable bamboo cutlery set which I can wash in the toilet and reuse during the day. My coffee cup also doubles as drinking cup if I fancy juice or a cold drink.
“I also have a reusable water bottle which I refill with tap water (there are plenty of places now offering free water refills across London, check the Refill London campaign!).
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