A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Plastic-free Leiden


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.

8 comments on “Plastic-free Leiden

  1. annette
    April 2, 2015

    for 6/ you can do the same at Bocconi.
    Also, what’s wrong with recycling plastic packaging? (sincere question). I’m happy i can do this here, which is not always the case where i come from in France.

  2. Bernhard@theleidener
    April 2, 2015

    Thank you for your comment annette, that is a very interesting point you mention.

    First of all, if everyone recycled plastic, it would be a great start. The sad truth is, however, that a large amount of plastic waste from all over Europe ends up in landfills together with the normal “restafval” waste, or even worse, in oceans (approximately 8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enters the earth’s oceans every year). From the few recycling statistics I know about the Netherlands, the Dutch recycling habits appear to be above the European average – but then I don’t understand why in a city like Leiden, you need to go on proper exploration tours in order to find a single recycling bin. In my opinion there is definitely room for improvement in that sector.

    Secondly, contrary to popular belief, plastic cannot really be “recycled”, but only “downcycled”. This means that a plastic coca cola bottle can never produce another coca cola bottle, since you need “virgin plastic” for such a product. Rather, only very few recycled plastic items go through the real recyling process a few single times, most are immediately turned into smaller nonrecyclable items like fleece clothing and plastic lumber.

    So from the millions of tons of plastic waste, only a small percentage goes into re- or upcycling (I apologise that I don’t have any concrete statistics for this at the moment, but you can find it all over the internet), another small part is burned for energy (which is a nasty, nasty source of energy) and the majority ends up in landfills, where it will not decompose for hundreds or thousands of years (depending on the type of plastic).

    All in all, I simply fail to see why a progressive country like the Netherlands still relies so heavily on plastic bags, when there are hundreds of viable alternatives on the market. There has been an ongoing trend to phase-out lightweight plastic bags all over the world, some countries, like Rwanda, Macedonia, China or Taiwan have even banned them altogether.
    Imagine how few people would really be negatively affected here in Leiden if stores and markets stopped giving out free lightweight plastic bags? Would it take people a certain time to adjust? sure, but I think the potential benefits largely outweigh the cost of such a project.

  3. Madison Edwards
    October 22, 2015

    There are a lot of options now If one decides to go for a zero waste lifestyle! All it takes is to be dedicated enough and open-minded!

    • Bernhard@theleidener
      October 22, 2015

      Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more! Also, it’s a gradual process and people don’t have to go zero waste overnight.

  4. Vanessa
    August 9, 2017

    This is so helpful! I’m going plastic free this week in Amsterdam and didn’t know where to find bulk foods and eco friendly places. Thanks!

  5. Margarita
    October 19, 2017

    Apparently there is a bulk store near Leiden called De Verpakkingsvrije Winkel for Zero Waste!!

  6. Sjakie
    May 15, 2019

    How is ZamZam not mentioned?

  7. Sarah
    January 31, 2020

    Hey, do you also know where I could get pasta and beans or sth like that without packaging? 😊

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2015 by in Living in Holland, Practical Stuff, Student Life.

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