“It is not about elimination but about re-use.”

By Maria Fiala.
An interview with the owners of a zero-waste store in the city center.

In the silent part of the center of Budapest, just a couple of steps from the National Museum, a new grocery store has opened it’s doors. What’s so special about this store you might ask? Upon entering, you may notice that wherever you look you will not be able to find a single piece of packaging. Yes, this store is a zero-waste one. Lately, an increasing number of such shops have been opening in Budapest, however, all of them seemed a bit out of reach to me. That’s why I was really excited to see Újratöltve (meaning filled up again, broadly translated) open in my district, at Muzeum krt. 17, in District V. When I walked in for the first time, I was greeted with a smile and the owners were extremely friendly and helpful – especially with helping me fill my containers, as I can be the clumsiest in such situations. I had the opportunity to talk to them and find out about their values and even ask for some advice on how to get back on top of this zero-waste lifestyle.

Photos courtesy of Olivia Nickerson.

Photos courtesy of Olivia Nickerson.

Owners Péter Ahmad and Bianka Ahmad-Bécsi have always cared deeply for the environment. They would despise going on hikes and coming across the rather familiar plastic bottles or plastic wrapping left on the side of the path, instead of bumping into a roe deer. The genesis of their zero-waste lifestyle came from a very practical place. During Christmas festivities, they would buy flour and all the ingredients to bake traditional sweets. “Now, you must know that Bianka only bakes once a year and that is at Christmas.” Péter laughed telling me the story. “We would end up with leftover ingredients that we eventually had to throw away and that made us feel bad.”
“So, one Christmas I decided to go to a zero-waste shop and buy the exact amount of each ingredient that I needed for the recipe. Since then, we realized that it is a quite practical way of living and we decided to implement it in our everyday lives,” explained Bianka. “Eventually to the extent of opening up our own zero-waste store.”
Photos courtesy of Olivia Nickerson.

Photos courtesy of Olivia Nickerson.

“About two years ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to work for anybody, and that mainly I wanted to have a meaningful job,” confessed Péter. His dream came true, when in August 2021 they opened Újratöltve. One of their other passions is obtaining good quality ingredients. That’s why apart from the food without packaging you can also buy locally sourced-marmalades, jars filled with other delicacies and various titbits for cooking. “The state our planet is in is not normal and we should stop thinking that we cannot do anything about it. Every little action counts. The more people start this lifestyle the bigger the demand for shops such as ours and the more other companies will change,” Bianka and Péter agreed.
I remember about four years ago, I started noticing differences in my surroundings and the amount of plastic waste I had to face on a daily basis. For the first time on holiday with my family, I picked up more plastic from the beaches than shells and pebbles. That is when I realized that recycling plastic is simply no longer enough as most of it still ends up in the ocean. Now, three years later I have been on a rollercoaster of moments of victory and utter failure trying to reduce my waste. That is why I am always excited to meet people such as Bianka and Péter, and get advice from them. I always find it encouraging.

“About two years ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to work for anybody, and that mainly I wanted to have a meaningful job,” - Peter

“About two years ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to work for anybody, and that mainly I wanted to have a meaningful job,” – Peter

“It is not about elimination but about re-use,” said Péter. “We will never eliminate plastic – the industry won’t change. The issue here is with single-use plastic.” Bianka continued: “Even when you decide to go zero-waste, don’t immediately throw away all the plastic in your home and replace it with fancy jars – try to get as much use as you can from the plastic bags and containers you already have. Then we promise all our customers that what they buy in our shop has passed a list of criteria to be as eco-friendly as possible.”
To conclude, I asked Péter and Bianka if they have any advice to people who are considering giving this zero-waste thing a go. Here are their main points:
- Do not give up on the things you love but try to compromise.
- Do not dive in, start with slight changes so the transition is not overwhelming. For example, only start by making your kitchen plastic-free.
- When you go shopping, plan ahead – it is conscious shopping.
- Accept occasional failure and do not beat yourself up for it.
Lastly, if you’re passionate about the environment and want to find ways to be more environmentally conscious, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Stand behind your beliefs and be kind to others and yourself. It’s a long journey. I thank Péter and Bianka very much for being so generous and willing to talk to me and I hope to see more students there in the future.