Unpackaging Prague’s Waste
Paper or plastic? You won’t be asked this question at Bezobalu — the zero-waste shop and non-profit organization dedicated to minimizing Prague’s waste, one less package at a time.
Bezobalu develops effective ways to manage and prevent waste production. The non-profit (legally established in 2015) was inspired by Unpackaged — a zero-waste store in London. Bezobalu has introduced a similar refill and reuse model, operating two self-service, package-free shops. Its flagship location in Hradčanská is considered the largest of its kind in the country.
The basis for its existence, however, deserves less praise. The nation’s total municipal waste for 2017 amounted to 3,642,958 tonnes, according to national statistics on annual municipal waste production. (Municipal waste consists of everyday household items, like product packaging, food, and clothing.)
Bezobalu is tackling this number head on through educational initiatives, hosting and participating in workshops, events, and lectures nationwide and in Europe. The organization was heavily involved in the first Czech conference on zero waste in 2017 wherein green-living guru and author of Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson, spoke. They also offer training and consultation services for companies or individuals looking to manage their waste or set up their own zero-waste retail business model.
Working with local waste management authorities, like The Ministry of Environment, who is responsible for implementing EU provisions in legislation, has allowed the organization to further its efforts on a regional level — so much so that they received recognition in the Sustainable Development Goals’ Awards for launching the largest Czech awareness campaign for preventing waste.
Entering Bezobalu is like walking into an environmentalist’s paradise. Made Sustained water bottles stand in resolute unity against their plastic enemies while stainless-steel bins glisten with the dried fruit that fills them. Their endless spice aisle inspires you to be more creative in the kitchen while the variety of grains leaves you dumbfounded. One wall is entirely dedicated to oils, with a detailed chart to inform customers of how to choose the best one for its respective purpose — cooking on high heat vs. flavoring salad dressings. But perhaps most enticing of all: you can grind your own fresh peanut butter or coffee beans.
The store offers a wide range of products, each labeled vegan, gluten free, bio, and fair or direct trade. However, Bezobalu sells more than just food items. They also make their own household cleaning products, including laundry detergents, dish soap, and toilet cleaner. Beauty and personal hygiene are also no exception. The shop sells cosmetics and toiletries, such as waxed beechwood pocket combs, bamboo toothbrushes, and reusable cotton pads.
Although package-free shopping can feel unfamiliar, the concept is simple: you bring your own containers to refill. You start by weighing and labeling your vessel of choice at the store’s entrance. If you forget to bring containers or fabric bags, the store offers a selection of reusable jars, cans, and bottles from which you can choose. They also provide clear instructions, ample signage, and attentive staff to help.
While package-free shopping is still somewhat of a novelty in the Czech Republic, companies like Bezobalu are leading the way for a more sustainable future. Let us raise our (reusable) glass to further encourage an environmental consciousness in this country.
Ileana Lobkowicz grew up in Prague. She was managing editor of The Gavel, Boston College’s online student publication, volunteered at a magazine written by Boston’s homeless community, and has published marketing content for two travel service companies and a non-profit organization. She is on a quest to share the hidden stories of Prague.