Tucked in the residential suburb of Bangsar is a little green haven call The Hive Bulk Foods. Established in 2015, this social enterprise and organic food store is fast becoming a hub for those wishing to lead a zero waste lifestyle; if not completely zero, then to be a more responsible consumer.
Founded by Frenchwoman Claire Sancelot, The Hive is a co-operative that encourages package-less, bulk buying of whole foods and dry groceries, in its efforts to reduce the use of packaging.
The Hive also serves as an eco-movement base for KLites; its cosy, simple and modern stores (it has another outlet in Ampang) hold weekly workshops, ranging from kombucha and beeswax wrap-making to vegan cooking and tips on natural household cleaning.
Recycling is not the solution. We must start by refusing - refuse the packaging, reduce plastics
One can also be inspired by Claire’s journey towards zero waste lifestyle, which she says was triggered by a realisation that while recycling may help with managing waste, it is not necessarily the most effective method to reduce environmental pollution.
“Recycling is not the solution. We must start by refusing - refuse the packaging, reduce plastics,” says Claire.
The switch from ‘recycle to reduce’ lifestyle started after she had her first child in Hong Kong, where she was disappointed to find out the ‘truth’ about recycling practices in the city.
“They come with big bins where we out everything in. Then, I found out they (trash) were sent to incinerators,” says Claire.
“So, that triggered a rethink in the way we consume - because the recycling option is not quite there anymore,” she adds.
Claire started documenting her zero waste mission from home and soon started movements like Zero Waste Hong Kong and Hong Kong Green Home to inspire others to follow in her footsteps.
Now, based in Bangsar with her Malaysian husband, Claire has been advocating eco consumerism for the past four years. In fact, The Hive is the first zero waste store in Malaysia.
“I’ve always wanted to have one (bulk food store) in my neighbourhood,” says Claire.
“It is a low margin business, but I thought that I should give it a try.”
The Hive partners with local organic farmers, and since it is a cooperative, it does not sell the produce for financial returns.
Claire admits that it was challenging to educate consumers on the zero waste concept during the early years of The Hive but is encouraged by increasing awareness of the lifestyle, and a change of attitude towards plastics and processed foods - which comes in plastic packaging.
“There is a shift in how people consume. They want to reduce (eating) processed foods.”
“I have only been in this business for three years and I can see the shift. We love to destroy things but we are actually not suicidal and now we understand, we don’t want plastic packaging anymore.”
Claire has gone through rough times running The Hive too; she relates with humour of the time she was ‘chased away’ by her neighbours. She also endured a horrifying robbery incident.
“This is part of being an entrepreneur,” she says with a wry smile.
At her Ampang outlet, Claire is advocating another ‘reduce and reuse’ method by selling pre-loved items.
“I am trying to get Malaysians to love their ‘preloved’ items, to love the preloved clothes and fashion.”
“I wish it was more alive though,” she says with a tinge of disappointment. “Its been slow, so far. Right now, a few of my friends have been selling (their preloved items) but there are not enough people buying.”
“I once bought a pair of Jimmy Choo Jimmy Choos from my own store.”
Another key aspect that sets The Hive apart from other organic stores is its product sourcing; most of them are made by women entrepreneurs, social enterprises, the disabled and refugees.
“If they need help in marketing or in (understanding) their profit and loss (statements), they can come to me for advice.”
“Some make more money than their husbands,” she says of the women entrepreneurs. “That’s encouraging as it is really about female empowerment.”
“And it is very heart-warming when they send me messages saying ‘Claire, thank you so much for the encouragement’.”
One thing that Claire hopes to impart is the urgency to ‘change our lifestyles’.
“People are delusional because they think climate change won’t be here until the next two or three generations. It is impacting our generation and will definitely impact our kids’ generation,” says the mother to three daughters.
When asked how a zero waste lifestyle impacted the way she raised her children, she says with a chuckle:
“My kids are super happy and normal. All their toys, except for when we have birthday parties, are second-hand. Their furniture, even their bedding and clothes, are second-hand.”
She admits it is not easy to achieve a zero waste lifestyle, but Claire says there are steps to ease into it.
“We start by thinking about the way we are consuming. This is so painless.”
“We really need to decrease carbon emissions and do it today - not tomorrow.”