In September 2019, Totoya opened a model-case store near Yoyogi Park called nue by Totoya. nue by Totoya was like a traditional grocery store but differed in that everything was sold by weight and with no single-use packaging or unnecessary waste. Totoya’s focus for the store was to showcase what zero waste shopping looked like and how easy it was.
“Here, [we tested] which products to sell and how to make it a smooth buying experience for the customer, how to communicate with customers about the shopping process, and how to find new producers and growers that were willing to shift towards a zero waste delivery method,” Mona says. The name and mission quickly gained traction, and they were able to move to a bigger space with regular opening hours in Kokubunji in January 2021.
One of the early challenges was around mindset. “The convenience and level of service that Japan is known for, has been hard to shake. Businesses are used to providing it, and for consumers it’s also hard to forgo this readily available convenient lifestyle,” Mona explains. “I also think the urgency isn’t clear – a lot of people understand that being wasteful is not ‘right’, but they don’t understand the extreme damage this waste is causing the world. I also believe people want to do more but that they don’t know how to take matters into their own hands.”
The latest expansion for Totoya is a zero waste supermarket in Kyoto, Totoya Kyoto, which opened on July 31 this year. This store has over 800 food and lifestyle items (much bigger than Kokubunji) which means that more and more waste-conscious brands can gain exposure, and hopefully attract new businesses too.
One of the measures the team is implementing here to eliminate food waste from any leftover fresh produce is to transform part of the store into a zero waste restaurant at night. “Another major difference for the Kyoto store is that we are implementing technologies that make the shopping experience smoother and faster. Our technology partner for scales and cashiers is provided Teraoka Seiko, who are working with us to bring technologies that are used in Europe—where zero waste shopping is almost common—to Japan for the first time, and we are excited to be implementing some of these technologies and services for the first time ever.” The size of the store means that more and more brands can gain exposure, and consequently it is becoming more important for brands to care more about waste.
While established brands like Muji are introducing the idea of bulk-buying bins to their stores, the message is a bit mixed given that the bins have only been introduced to a very few stores, and also that many of the products inside are still plastic wrapped. But, it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
“Japan, as well as the world, is moving towards a more sustainable future for the environment. We think that systematic changes can and are happening. We hope that the success of our Kyoto store as the first zero waste supermarket in Japan will allow other businesses to try similarly to not only succeed as a business, but as a member of society. It is our aim for Totoya to not be an exception but rather for zero waste shopping to become the norm. Therefore we are continuously working to support others who want to open zero waste stores across the country.”