LIFE IN BULK. Almost 10 great places boosting the zero waste scene in Riga.

Latvians are famous with their "collecting bag for other bags"; or a shelf full with empty jars "that might be useful someday"; or onion peels many collect to colour eggs on Easter along with all the old nylon stockings used to store garlic, onions, or hazelnuts, and hung somewhere on display. Is the contemporary zero waste movement a serious business in Riga or is it just a post-soviet kitsch?


At first, there's absolutely nothing wrong with aiming toward zero waste. It's purpose is to reduce the amount of useless packaging, promoting only buying as much as we need. Zero waste motivates introducing or reintroducing new or forgotten materials, tools, devices, substances, that can be used longer or more often. After all, the whole ideology is also about exchanging or donating excessive items in for others to use and lifting the mentality of cleaner environment.
It is a social and environmental movement. And it feels most organic when not primarily tied to gaining capital.
In result, most goods can become cheaper, more local shops can be more supported. Zero waste places are also great for showcasing new products, usually regionally produced that might need a lot of time, assets, and larger budget for production and marketing to take off in general grocery stores. Is smaller places, it's easier to enter the market as well as give an option to buy a never-tried-before product in smaller amounts.

Despite the capitalistic ignorance that rushed over the world after the Soviet Union collapsed and many "third-world" countries became triggered by mass consumption, Latvia is still holding on reasonably fine now in this arena of zero waste. The quote by Aldous Huxley, "ending is better than mending", is around since Latvians got introduced to plastic packaging in the 80s and new iPhone every next year today, yet its power has almost never succeeded common sense.

Many believe our bad habits are the remains of the post-soviet mentality. When nothing really belonged to anybody and the ignorance toward public and private responsibility was at its hay time. Some graceless rubbish in still dumped in forests there and here, old tire warehouses "accidentally" catch fire, and the country still lacks the deposit system (only coming up during next year or two).

A wave of criticism raised during the pandemic when many shops and stores as well as individuals overreacted with precautions and their practice. Like these plastic bottles for self-squeezed orange juice at RIMI, mostly touched once by the actual buyer, were all in extra polyethylene bag same as every bun and other items.

In general, though, Latvians have managed to keep the country tidy enough. For the majority, not all however, it's always important to remember that nature is one of the most vital resources here in the north, and we ought to keep it clean.

Maybe from there comes the concept that Latvians are good at being green and at zero waste thinking because "we already have lush forests and clean beaches". However, some believe it's overrated and falsely accepted especially when we face a wave of deforestation now, only learn to recycle methodologically, and the air quality in the country is one of the biggest stumbling block in the country.

What we have become today cannot only be blamed on some mentality gained until 30 years ago. We live in the 21st century, and our deeds must have changed already. Now such habits are considered crime.

Meanwhile the soviet era, no matter how hard or stagnant, was also the time when DIY culture, upcycling used materials or devices, or absence of plastic packaging was a thing. Despite everyone having a job or money, casual resources and appliances often went short. So you had to improvise to get things done. For most, thinking this way has stayed for the better.

One can agree, the resurrection of zero waste related activities and habits could happen much earlier if not the post-soviet trauma. For example, the need of collecting glass bottles is at least 100 years old. Practising it became a daily activity for many during the soviet times when recycling glass was done because of being poor, not out of environmental or enlightenment reasons.

Another example are turtle bags that, despite their functionality, were the cheapest thing to have, and many did not want to use them for few decades simply because of feeling poor. Cool, printed tote bags only came after.

At one point, string, net, turtle, or mesh bags were taken over by synthetic materials in different shapes, such as this bag made out of nylon fishing line. Although kitschy, the item was usually badly seamed and again was associated with the poor in the 90s (photo from spoki.lv).


Our allotment garden and "home-grown" tradition is also very strong in both urban and rural areas. Maybe it does not look aesthetically as good as in Denmark, but it's means more than just a décor here. "Home-grown" is seldom seen more suspicious or considered poorer quality than things imported from afar.
In short, the zero waste culture has a long turbulent history in Latvia that simply needed to be decontextualized for the better. In the last three years - it finally was.
The graph below truly proves not only that this trauma might be over, but also the contemporary zero waste movement has experienced a large boom lately. It shows the huge intensity with what the packaging-free related stores and establishments have been opened in Latvia lately. For now, it seems we lead Europe in shops per million of people as well as the speed of growth of such number.

A graph from "Packaging Free Shops in Europe – An initial report" (2020).

However, as the illustration shows, we can talk about zero waste friendly places in Riga only for the last two years. Apart from our often obscure zero waste traditions, its contemporary form has returned way to late. But it has come at least.

Latvian companies try developing biodegradable packaging, while many restaurants have been using vegware for a while or serving flavoured tap water to reduce the usage of any bottles. Methods are various, the purpose is shared - get less of a mess.

We collected a list of close to 10 stores that have reverted buying in bulk to town and proved there's nothing wrong with it. It's foods, crafts, skincare products, domestic chemicals, tools, and more + MAP!

BODNĪCA

The latest zero waste store, "Small-shop", opened their doors in the beginning of June 2020. Located on once one of the most known hipster streets in Riga, this zero waste store continues to bring the subculture fame back to the flat block. Some bulk food is still unavailable, but it's just a matter of time. The shop also exists online.


It took a year to open the very first proper zero waste store in Riga on 1 August 2018. It's also one of the most popular alternative stores to visit in Riga, but, since "JAR" was the first, many lessons were also learned by others (it includes choices of products or their absence, vegan labels, better storage vessels etc). Despite that, Burka is place to start with if you don't know where to start your package-free journey.

CAFE M

The first zero waste cafeteria in the Baltics was opened in Riga in March 2019. With most of the furniture from upcycled materials, deals with farmers and allotment garden owners to reuse the café grounds, second hand vessels, and other responsible elements are what make M Cafe different to other cafeterias.

Honourable mention: RIGA CENTRAL MARKET

Despite several crises, rather managerial than food related, the largest covered market in Europe is still one of the lushest places to buy things in real bulk in Riga. Especially at their Night market section where a question, "can I buy 50kg of potatoes?" is nothing extraordinary. For more, we have a juicy article on this and other city markets already.

NB! Some vendors still have no clue what "no plastic bag" means. So, before you buy anything, double check to give them your own packaging in advance or deny any if needed. Also, most deals are carried out in cash, so be ready to get physical.

TURZA

Second zero waste store in Latvia that could have been the first (according to the Internet activity already prior to the opening). Launched in October 2018, "Paper-bag" were the first to introduce fresh products like fruits and vegetables as well as some dairy and bread.

ZAĻAIS KALNS

Youngest zero waste store in the family of the western Riga. "Green hill" opened their doors in September 2019 and is located almost opposite the known Āgenskalna market.

ZEROVEIKALS

Opening very soon after BURKA, "Zero Store" launched their services in August 2018. Their assortment very much emphasizes eco and bio production and their communication is probably the most social media based among all the zero stores in Riga.

ZEMES DRAUGS

Focusing a lot on what the local makers, bakers, manufacturers or producers can offer, "Friend of Earth" is a compact store that opened in the Āgenskalns neighbourhood more than a year ago - in April 2019. They were the first to offer products in bulk across the river.

- - -

There are many things that unite all zero waste places in Riga. At first, they very much rely on the regular customers, most of them are younger families, the elderly, and school kids that pass by. At second, all are run by women (for now). At third, all are very cozy, and, at forth, all of them have suffered restrictions or rearrangement of the assortment and self-service due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The staff here have done a lot to make purchases easy yet safe when distancing and protecting customers from getting ill. So, even if some potential costumers are worried about the safety of products and themselves, most zero stores take care nothing wrong happens to your and others' health.

Enjoy the zero waste movement in Riga and Latvia, and find your closest store on this map!


MORE INFO
However most stores or places related to the zero waste movement are located in Riga, here are some alternatives if you live outside the capital or prefer buying online. Turns out - we really have a lot of establishments in Latvia!
  • Ber un Sver - zero waste store in Jelgava.
  • Brīvais veikals - zero store in Ikšķile related to their other alternative local movements.
  • Gemoss - probably the largest food wholesale dealer in the country. Their depot is open daily, yet the web only operates in Latvian.
  • ieber.lv - zero waste store in Cēsis.
  • Kuule - zero waste store in Kuldīga.
  • Neiepakots - zero waste store in Sigulda.
  • Zaļā vārna - zero waste web store; only operating in Latvian now.
  • Zero Pauna - zero waste store in Liepāja (comming up).

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