ZeroWaste Switzerland

Non-profit association inspiring everyone in Switzerland to reduce waste.

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Buying food in your own containers

One of the best ways to get compliments every day

Have you already tried buying cheese, fish or meat in your own containers? Or, in my case these days, quiche, cake or chocolate croissants?   

When you start doing that, it kind of changes your life from a waste point of view, because you don’t have a lot left. But it does take a bit of courage the first time you do it.  

I remember going into a little bakery, here in Versoix where I live, because I wanted to buy a pâté. I held out my container and said “Could you put it directly in here please? … Because I’m trying to reduce my waste.” At the beginning I always added that sentence.

The lady looked at me for a second and then exclaimed in a loud voice “Oh, Madame! … If everyone would do that, that would be wonderful!” I do have to admit to a certain feeling of relief. That same lady would, many months later, spend 5 minutes telling my Mum what a wonderful customer I was, because I always brought my own container.  

These days I would say, it’s one of the best ways to get compliments every day. In 90% of all cases, people respond with ‘Oh, thank you so much for doing that’, ‘that’s a brilliant idea’, ‘that’s so great, it’s good for the planet’. I could tell story after story of positive comments, some of my favourites are below. 

But before I get to those, let me just point out that all the big supermarkets in Geneva – Migros, Coop, Manor etc officially accept your own containers if you are buying cheese, fish, meat over the counter. And all the small bakeries, butchers are very happy to do so, because they can save a lot of money.  

We were recently talking to a butcher in Carouge, and he said he spent CHF 3000 on plastic bags every year. So, if customers bring their own containers, he’s definitely going to be happy!

And to clear up a frequently asked question: At least here in Geneva, the county chemist has officially confirmed that the shopkeeper/café owner is not liable from a hygiene point of view if you bring your own containers. The responsibility transfers from them to you for anything that might happen after purchase. He/she can obviously refuse them if they are not clean.

From a practical point of view, it’s a good idea to keep a container in your shopping bag, in your desk at work or maybe in the boot of your car/basket of your bike. That way if you forget to take it with you, you always have one at hand. And, remember for take-away meals, check out whether your local take-away offers reusable packaging on deposit. 

Now back to the positive comments: 
– At a café in the train station in Paris one evening, when I was buying a hot chocolate in my own mug and a cookie in my own container, a young server looked at me and announced ‘You’re my best customer of the day. I’m going to give you an extra cookie.’ How lovely!

– At a café in Versoix when buying a slice of fruit tart to take-away, a young girl was standing watching as the owner put it in my own container. She asked me ‘Why are you doing that?’ but before I could say a word, he took on the role of asking her what she thought cardboard was made from and explaining that ‘Madame’ was bringing her own containers so there would still be enough trees left for her when she grew up. I almost had tears in my eyes.

– At a take-away in Geneva, when asking the owner if he accepted people’s own containers he replied ‘It’s my dream that all my clients bring their own containers. That way I never have to buy aluminum trays ever again.’

So, if you haven’t already tried, the next time you are buying food, take a container with you and ask the shopkeeper/café owner to put it directly in there. You can reduce your waste, feel better about your carbon emissions, and make your local shopkeepers happy!