Robuust, first Belgian zero-waste shop.
Ever since I can remember, Antwerp has been a hot bed for everything that has to do with environment, recycling and trying to lower our carbon footprint.
I first came into contact with this way of life when I was 13 and a friend in school’s parents were avid eco-politicians and had a biological clothes store at the trendy Zuid. It took me a while to jump on the eco-bandwagon to be honest. Had to watch a lot of documentaries and get slapped on the back of the head by my nature-loving sister before I truly got the message: if we keep wasting and spilling like this, soon there won’t be much of a planet left to live on.
Now is the time to take action and you have to start by looking at yourself: what can you do in your own life to minimize the damage you do to the planet? This is exactly the reason I fell for the idea of the zero waste shop. Since a couple of years I try to buy in a more responsible way on every level, exceptfor supermarket stuff. Of course I visit the market on occasion but there’s simply no way around the tons of plastic and cardboard and tins that we throw out every year. I don’t have the space to grow my own vegetables nor would I know where to keep a year’s worth of potatoes or jam or whatever it is people grow in their gardens and/or terrace. At my home I try to keep my rice, herbs, etc in separate jars and I already made a conscious effort to re-use whatever materials deemed suitable.
For months me and my sister had been following up on Robuust’s initiative and I can’t deny that we got more and more anxious every time the owners had to move back the opening date. On Sunday however, the time was finally there. Armed with 7 clean jars me and my sis hopped on our bikes (ecological, right?) and made it through a very busy city center to the Reynderstraat. Even though it was drizzling, there were quite a lot of people gathered in front of the store and I could see that I was not the only blogger/journalist interested in this ‘Belgian’s first’. At 2 o’ clock in the afternoon the doors opened and all of us were welcomed to have a look inside and –hopefully- make our first purchase.
The system the store uses is pretty straightforward: you come in and either weigh the pots and containers you brought yourself on a scale they provide. You put a sticker with the weight of the jar on it and at the checkout every jar is scanned and the weight is deducted of the total purchase. If you haven’t brought any containers yourself that’s not a problem either: Robuust offers a wide array of jars, bottles, tins and whatever else you might need. The walls are covered in containers that are filled with stuff you find in most supermarkets, only you get to decide the amount you buy yourself with easy filling stations or scoops. There’s herbs, spices, tea (loose of course), rice, salt, nuts, candy, coffee, dried fruits, … Besides the conservatives they also offer a lot of fresh foods: vegetables, fruits, cheese, oils and vinegars, etc.
On the right side of the store there is an entire section to household- and beauty products. Soaps, creams, shampoos, even re-usable diapers and a whole a selection of brushes, wipes and other household materials.
Support local farmers
In between the frantic choosing of what I would take home with me I got a chance to have a tiny chat with the owners (they were swamped by journalists and people congratulating them). I was lucky to already know a bit about the store and to have followed them and their progress via Facebook and so the thing I wanted to know most was what they thought was beneficial for the people who came to their store and their answer surprised me. They told me that people who buy their products at their store are not only environmentally friendly, they also offer a great support to local farmers and small business owners. Robuust not only prides itself in offering a way to minimize our carbon footprint in a way that will matter in the long run, they also want the community to benefit from it in any way it can.
After that my sister and I decided it was time to leave and I do have to conclude (after paying) that even though the initiative is awesome and it demands respect and a next visit, I will have to watch what I buy and make sure I try to bring my own containers as much as possible because being environmentally friendly doesn’t come that cheap. But it IS worth it.
As long as your sister doesn’t drop your container as soon as you’re out the store and in front of a snickering crowd. But it did gain the shop owner respect points as they were kind enough to, 1: throw the broken container in the trash and 2: offer me a FREE refill. All that was left to do after that was smile awkwardly and go home to take another step to more eco-friendly living.
Text by Joke
Pics by Jasper