A Guide to Living Zero Waste in Quito, Ecuador
Updated: Dec 23, 2019
When I was first planning my visit to Quito, Ecuador this summer, I didn't have high expectations of my ability to live zero waste in the city. After my experience two summers ago in Mexico with Styrofoam plates and cups at every restaurant, I was quick to assume my time in Ecuador would be similar. Thankfully I can report that I was very wrong. Quito has quite a passion for sustainability when it comes to plastic reduction and I found that being zero waste there just involved a bit of a learning curve. So for those of you that are either visiting the city on vacation or living there full time, I've compiled a list of the must-know places for buying in bulk, recycling odd items, and eating out without disposables!
Remember that like any city, you might have to get a little creative in order to buy items plastic free. However, you can always at the very least bring your own grocery bags to the grocery stores and buy your fresh fruits and veggies without a bag as much as possible. There are though a few stores in or near Quito that support the idea of waste reduction and let customers bring their own containers for buying in bulk.
This little store located in Quito calls itself a zero waste grocery store, and for good reason! Andrea, the owner, offers customers bulk items like grains, flours, nuts, chocolates, dried fruit, and many others. She even stocks almond milk in glass jars that you can return later. Te Quiero Verde also hosts regular workshops on green living, vegan eating, and waste reduction so make sure to check out their events while you're there too.
This small store principal store in Quito offers high quality seeds, nuts, snacks, and grains in bulk. There bulk bins are easily accessible and employees are happy to help you with weighing and taring your containers if necessary.
Located outside of Quito in Cumbaya, Juan Granel is absolutely worth the trip. It is hands-down one of the most beautiful zero waste stores I have ever seen. Not only do they sell everything in bulk, they work to stock as many items as possible grown and harvested right in Ecuador. They focus on fair trade products and ensuring that they are stocking the most environmentally and ethically made products available. Their selection is also huge with snacks, flours, grains, fried fruits (try the watermelon!), spices, and more!
This store is not typically designed as a "bring your own container" store in that they package most products already in their marked bags. However the employees at the store are quite happy when you bring in your own containers to weigh them and fill them up from their million pound stock bags behind the counter. They offer grains, dried fruit, nuts, some pastas, flours, and more!
Also located in Cumbaya, Super Foods has a sizable bulk section but isn't solely dedicated to bulk and the zero waste movement. They stock a variety of natural products ranging from cosmetics to cleaning supplies and also have a tiny cafe. On a regular basis, Super Foods hosts workshops on cooking, waste reduction, and green cleaning. They also have a large recycling unit located in their shared parking lot so if you're looking for a place to recycle glass, make sure to bring it along!
Tiendas and Mercados
Don't forget too that you can apply the principles of zero waste at any store you visit by bringing your own bags, buying your fruit and veggies without the plastic, avoiding over packaged items, etc. It won't be totally waste free of course, but many small markets have produce without any packaging and eggs that are loose. Bread is also extremely easy to come by without being wrapped in something. Just grab your reusable bags and do the best you can!
The food in Quito is amazing and shouldn't be skipped. Given though that composting and recycling aren't easily accessible, try to avoid taking home waste as much as possible by using the following tips.
Say No to Straws
Don't forget that you can always just ask for no straw - sin popote por favor! Many restaurants across Quito now actually have signs out front indicating whether they are a straw free establishment. Keep a look out as your picking out the next place on your "to eat" list!
Bring Your Own Container
Overall I found that restaurants were happy to place my food in my own container if I asked. I also made sure to bring my own napkins and silverware just in case the waiter went to hand me a disposable one.
If you're vegan, there aren't many restaurants dedicated just to vegan food but there are a few. Vegetarian options are pretty abundant - just be prepared to eat a lot of potatoes! I have to say that I am a little biased towards this restaurant because it is owned by my host family. But Upála is still one of the only restaurants dedicated just to vegan food. They also have their own zero waste "wall" in partnership with Te Quiero Verde where you can purchase bulk snacks, teas, grains, deodorant, and more! Upála has also pledged not to use plastic straws, has only real utensils and plates, and was looking into cloth napkins when I left. If you're looking for a tasty bite, I couldn't recommend this place enough!
Second Hand Shopping
Buying things second hand in Quito wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. But then again, the U.S. is kind of unique in its gigantic stores just with second hand clothes! Maybe someone with a little more investigative skill could find some second hand stores, but I mostly came up with flee markets in my search.
This flee market happens once a month at the restaurant Cafetina. They fill the whole restaurant, patio, and back area with tons of clothes for men, women, and children. It's a great way to find some scores, but be prepared to dig though the piles as most of them aren't super sorted.
The Secretaria de Ambiente has a searchable map of all of the known places in Quito that accept recycling. You can search on the map for locations that take glass, plastic, lawn clippings, batteries, paper, cooking oil and more! In general, curbside pickup of recycling isn't very common in Quito so there is a good chance you will have to rely on drop-off programs.
Zero Waste Supplies
When it comes to finding reusable items, Quito hasn't quite stocked their shelves yet. Reusable water bottles were pretty easy to find but they were all made out of plastic. Some supermarkets carried them as well as plastic straw cups too.
Bamboo Smile Ecuador sells bamboo toothbrushes.
Te Quiero Verde also sells bamboo toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, facial powder, and shampoo you can all get in your own container.
The Green Jump offers reusable straws.
Upála stocks a variety of bulk products from Te Quiero Verde like deodorant and bamboo toothbrushes, and also sells handmade napkins, hankybooks (handkerchiefs), and cloth bags.
If you're looking for things like beeswax wraps, safety razors, reusable containers, and such, you're a little bit on your own for this one. But please, as you continue to find more resources throughout Quito, keep me updated! I will add them to this list for other people to access as well.
Organizations - Local Resources
Once you're in Quito (or before you travel there), there are quite a few groups that talk about zero waste in the city and throughout Ecuador. As questions come up, use them as additional resources!
Just like in any country or city, living zero waste has a bit of a learning curve to it. Don't be afraid to reach out to me or others for advice! Try new stores, research alternatives, and soon enough you'll be reducing your waste!