A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
All over Europe we can currently detect an undeniable trend of promoting less-waste and less-plastic styles of life. Plastic free supermarkets such as this one or this one are springing up in cities all across the globe and more and more people start to buy and consume more consciously. As a result, numerous cities have introduced laws which ban single-use plastic bags in supermarkets and shops in order to keep them out of landfills and contribute to a more sustainable society. As progressive as the Netherlands are in many other respects, the country is really lagging behind on the issue of plastic use. Although most supermarket chains in Leiden have now started their small raw-food/vegan shelves where you can find a number of products in glass containers, there still is an abundance of plastic packaging in this country. As someone who has tried to fully stay off buying plastic over the last few months, Leiden presented a real challenge for me and my partner. However, over time we learned how to successfully not starve in Leiden and where we could get goods without packaging or in papers bags. That is why I decided to share my experiences and write a short guide on how to approach the difficult task of living with very little (or no) plastic in Leiden.
1. The market is your best friend.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a vegetarian or carnivore, the Leiden street market on Wednesdays and Saturdays will be able to provide you with fresh (or sometimes not so fresh – always pick the stuff yourself or check what they give you) vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, fish, cheese, sausages – whatever it is that goes on your plate. In addition, the market gives you the amazing opportunity to bring your own cloth or plastic bags in order not to produce any non-organic waste. However, if you want to cycle home without plastic you need to be really careful and quick as greased lightning because many street vendors have the ability to rip off a plastic bag in the blink of an eye and await your order before you know it. A simple “geen plastic, alstublieft!” is all it takes before placing your order and you will go home without lots of waste and a smile on your face. If you forgot to bring your own bags you can always ask for paper bags, which you can reuse the next time you go there.
2. Are you in dire need of vegetables on a day when the market is not on? Simply go to an eco store, such as Ekoplaza or Zaailing and get your cucumber without a plastic skin.
3. You have run out of spices and think there is no way around buying spices in non-plastic packaging? Do I have good news for you. At De Wereldkruidentuin on Haarlemmerstraat (209) the owner and employees will be very understanding if you come and bring your own containers for spices. You can either empty their plastic containers into your own and give them back to them for reuse, or simply ask them to fill up your container (that should be light and have visible measurements on it) from their bulk stock. They have wonderful open baskets full of spices all over the shop and it smells incredible in there. Also, De Wereldkruidentuin does not only have open spices, but also unpackaged rice and dried soy in many different shapes and flavours, which you can simply transfer into your own bag with a scoop (bring a very light bag so they can weigh it).
4. If you want to buy fresh meat, try avoiding the big supermarkets and go to one of the many family-run slagerijen (butchers) in Leiden. As a vegetarian, I don’t have any experience with buying plastic-free meat but if you bring your own closed container, I see no reason why your request should be turned down.
5. If you are looking for tofu without packaging you can go to an Asian store, such as Toko de Nieuwe Wereld on Nieuwe Rijn and bring your own container for it. Even though you can’t really get them out of the brine without using their plastic gloves, you can simply use one glove and then leave it there for the next person, they are fine with that.
6. You have run out of oil or vinegar? No problem, simply pop into Oil & Vinegar on Haarlemmerstraat (79), buy one of their glass bottles (in many different sizes) and refill them until eternity.
Although such measures might seem tedious to some, for me, they have turned my everyday shopping into a treasure hunt and the feeling once you return from a trip without any plastic packaging is unbeatable – I can really only recommend it to anyone!
Are you interested in finding stores for any other plastic-free products? Did I miss something crucial or do you have any additions to this list? I would love to hear about it. Simply post your questions in the comment section below.