Guide To Zero Waste Shopping in UAE

It’s been almost 2 years I have been trying to go Zero Waste here in UAE, it’s not an easy task and required lot of searching and looking for places around UAE. But I am more than happy to bring you this most awaited guide to Zero Waste Shopping in UAE.

Before I start listing where to buy zero waste in UAE, have a read about waste facts of UAE here, which will give you an idea why do we need to go zero waste in UAE. Reading beginner’s guide to zero waste lifestyle here will also help you to prepare mentally before you start your zero waste path.

Zero Waste Shopping Kit

Now before you start buying zero waste, you have to have your own zero waste shopping kit. Here are the things you can have in your zero waste shopping kit, but not all are necessary. You can get creative to replace a few things or reduce the size of your zero waste shopping kit.

My Zero Waste Shopping Kit

My zero waste shopping kit has a lot of draw string linen bags which I bought from Ikea 2-3 years back. You can also find cloth bags with some designs in Daiso. I won’t recommend investing in nylon or polymer produce bags as that material is not natural and takes longer to decompose, not really an authentic zero waste option. You will need to wash your produce bags once in a while especially if you use them for items which you eat directly without washing like bread. You can contact me if you want to make your own bags out of old clothes like me. Then a few glass jars, I don’t really buy jars, I reuse the jars of packaged honey, jam, pickles etc. Beeswax wrap and zip lock snack bags are useful but to be frank not very necessary if you have enough bags and jars. Lastly cloth tote bags, which I have been using since more than 7-8 years now.

Frankly, you can use whatever reusable items you have and start reducing waste straight away. From your experience, you will realize what all you need in your zero waste shopping kit and most importantly remember to carry your shopping kit on every (grocery) shopping trip. I always keep these few reusable items in my handbag, which is always useful to buy a few items on the go especially when my zero waste shopping kit is not with me.

To Bulk Or Not To Bulk?

Now, most zero waste warriors around the world do bulk shopping, but when you are in UAE remember things might not be same. The first thing we have to think is most of the food you get in stores of UAE comes from some place far apart from some vegetables and milk products. So if you are buying bulk and end up wasting it, you are not just wasting food but all the resources used to reach that food to your home is wasted like fuel used for transportation of food from far away place to UAE. Also, the weather conditions of UAE, might not allow you store even non-perishable food for a very long time which might be the case in your home country, especially if you are saving energy by switching off air conditioning when not at home like us, which has a more direct positive impact on the environment.

So think carefully what to buy in bulk and what not. For example, in my household, there are certain things I buy in bulk and certain things I prefer buying in a smaller portion. Rice, honey, spices etc I buy in bulk as we either consume them on regular basis. I started buying honey in bulk for a few reasons, firstly we use it on daily basis in drinks and also for my natural beauty care needs. The smaller packs come in plastic bottles and bulk comes in a glass jar. Now I get to reuse that glass jar once honey is finished and I can avoid at least 3 plastic bottles if I buy honey in a glass jar. Over one year by buying honey in bulk glass jar, I avoided buying total 28 plastic bottles! That is the magic of bulk if you do it wisely.

Don’t forget to read here how to reduce food waste at your home.

Where To Buy Package-free Food Items In UAE?

For vegetables and fruits, it’s very easy to buy zero-waste in UAE. Just carry your own produce bags and buy loose vegetables and fruits. Till now I never had any issues with this, rather at my regular stores staff are very co-operative. At weighing scale, it takes little longer as I keep multiple types of fruits and vegetables in one draw string bag so the staff has to weigh them separately and put stickers on the bag. I have rarely seen people behind me complaining, rather many consumers get inspired, either they reduce their plastic bags immediately or even talk to me about it.

Some readers ask me what do I do when fruits are pre-packed in foam tray and wrapped with plastic cling film. I simply avoid buying those fruits and buy strictly loose. Generally, every shop has the loose selection and remember they mostly wrap those packages in their stores. So if I need to buy particular fruit which is only pre-packed, I simply request staff mentioning I don’t use plastic and use only reusable bags to buy my things. Most times the staff co-operate, if the staff is less confident to help me or tells me it’s not allowed, I talk to their supervisor or even store manager. Once they know the exact reason they co-operate. You might need little extra time for the first zero waste shopping, but once it’s established you can do it in your regular shopping time. I have bought package free fruits and vegetables from almost all supermarkets and grocery stores in UAE.

1. Fruits and vegetables

Farmer’s market which is organized every Friday in winter months, my most favorite place for authentic organic and local produce. Ripe market is a good place to buy package free vegetables on every Saturday even in summer months. Union co op has a great range of organic & local produce. Other places to buy zero waste fruits and veggies are Organic Foods and cafe, Waitrose, Lulu, Spinneys, Carrefour, Geant. Fruits and vegetable market in Dubai or almost every emirate, great for bulk shopping if you have any event or guest over. Farm 182 in Al Rahba city in Abu Dhabi. Just remember to buy fruits and vegetables from nearby places than far off countries to reduce carbon footprint.

Happy to go zero waste

2. Eggs

Ripe Market in Dubai & 182 Al Rahba City in Abu Dhabi

3. Bread

You can buy package free bread in almost all those stores, where they have their own bakery like Union-co-op, Waitrose, Carrefour just bring your own clean cotton bag or bee wax wrap or containers.

4. Cheese, Pickles

You can always find fewer options of package-free loose cheese or you can find those counters for local Arabic cheese & pickles. Best places for package free cheese Organic foods & cafe, Waitrose, Lulu, Union Co-op.

5. Pulses & Legumes

Union Co Op, Carrefour, Al Adil

6. Flours

Union Co Op has gram flour, rice powder. For wheat flour Al Adil in Al Barsha. Flour Mills in Abu Dhabi

7. Rice

Union Co Op, Organic Foods & Cafe. But my favorite is Al Adil for Indian variety of rice.

8. Tea

Tealand, Dubai Festival City. Teavana in Abu Dhabi Yas Mall

9. Coffee

Carrefour, RAW coffee, Al Rifai Roastery in Abu Dhabi

10. Honey

Carrefour, Union Co op, Blossom Honey or Sabha Honey in Abu Dhabi.

11. Nuts, Dry Fruits

Waitrose, Lulu, Carrefour are places you can buy package free plain or roasted nuts and dried fruits. In Waitrose you can find prunes, in Lulu you can find spicy roasted nuts. There are many roasteries across UAE, I am sure they will co-operate to provide package free products once you talk to them.

12. Superfoods

Like chia seeds, flaxseeds, quinoa you need to go to Union Co Op and Organic Foods & Cafe.

13. Juices

Carrefour,

14. Meat, Fish

Carrefour, Organic Foods & Cafe

15. Spices & Herbs

The best place to buy package-free spices & herbs is spice souq in Deira Dubai, it’s also a cultural experience and must for any visitor to UAE. You can also find loose spices or spice powders in Union co op, Carrefour, Bzar Bhar in Mushrif Mall Abu Dhabi. For fresh herbs, you can grow your own herbs in window or balcony garden.

16. Vinegar

Vom Fass J3 Mall, Dubai

17. Oils

Vom Fass J3 Mall Dubai, Mawasim organic supermarket, Abu Dhabi

18. Oats

Organic foods and cafe has large oat flakes

19. Chocolates & candies

Lulu, specialty chocolate shops like Godiva

 

Package Free Toiletries & Cosmetic

When you are going zero waste, the best option is to use natural ingredients for cleaning instead of store bought items. Baking powder, vinegar, lime are best options for cleaning most of the surfaces and things at home. Read here how you can use lemon peels to clean your kitchen.

1. Detergent, Cleaning products

I refill toilet cleaners, hand-wash soap in my own containers at Organic Foods and Cafe.

2. Soaps, Shampoos & Conditioners

You can buy naked soaps, conditioner bars and shampoo bars at Lush cosmetics. Locally made soaps from camel soap and factory come in jute pouch which can be reused to store something else. For cheaper options, you can buy natural soaps wrapped in paper packaging and recycle the wrapping paper

How to use your containers for zero waste shopping?

When you are buying things in your own containers especially food, you need to weigh your container first and after weighing container with a food item in it, just subtract the weight of the container to get the weight of the item you need to purchase. It’s simple maths, but actually, weighing scales have the option to set up the weight of your container to make this process easy.

So give the store staff some time to figure it out if they are doing it the first time and help them or explain what exactly you want; as it is still very rare to shop with your own containers in UAE. If the store staff is hesitating or not co-operating, just talk to their supervisors. In places like Waitrose, you can do this process on your own next to the nuts and dry fruits refillable counter.

Being almost a first zero waste warrior in UAE, I found it tough at the start in late 2015. But my only goal during every grocery shopping trip is been not to take ‘No’ for an answer. So by now, you won’t be surprised if I tell you, many staff in my regular supermarkets and grocery stores know me and my (weird) requests very well. I just wish and hope more and more people in UAE start saying no to plastic packaging if not going zero waste as for now.

Read here all about our #ZeroWasteUAE Initiative and get to know how you or your organization can be part of it. Here is a recycling guide for UAE, which is the first and very important step in living sustainable.

Lastly don’t forget to subscribe here, as I am going to update this Zero Waste Shopping Guide every now and then to list newer places who can help us reducing waste. If you know any place in UAE where you can buy things package-free, please let me know in comments below.

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I am a Sustainability Professional. I have worked on many green building projects in the

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