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Are Waste-Free Supermarkets the Next Big Thing?

Are Waste-Free Supermarkets the Next Big Thing?

You won’t find shrink-wrapped produce or styrofoam containers at Berlin’s Original Unverpackt grocery store. In fact, you won’t find any disposable packaging at all — the shop in Germany’s trendy capital is entirely waste-free. The supermarket is the first of its kind in the country, and one of only a handful currently in operation on the entire planet.

And no, it ain’t just a bunch of bulk bins. Owners Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski expect to stock around 600 products. From loose produce to cleaning supplies, dairy to meat, the products will run the gamut of supermarket staples. Customers have the option of bringing in their own containers, or purchasing reusable containers in-store.

There is one type of product you won’t find, however. As the owners explain in an English-language interview,

“… We don’t believe in convenience food. People should go back to their roots and learn to cook again, learn to enjoy the ingredients, and enjoy what it means to prepare your own meal again. So we’re not going to serve ready-made meals.”

It’s no doubt that supermarkets produce tons and tons of waste every year. But can this radical model be replicated? Earlier experiments with the waste-free model haven’t quite taken off: a store in London closed its doors after less than a year in business, and a store in Austin, Texas, backed away from its initial waste-free model. Perhaps it’s not the most practical thing either — after all, people are busy, and people are forgetful. This kind of grocery store is for customers that have the time, money and know-how to cook for themselves, and many people just don’t have that luxury.

But even if waste-free grocery stores aren’t likely to make it to your neighborhood anytime soon, there’s still plenty we can do to reduce packaging waste. We can fight for laws that ban plastic bags, and encourage reusable grocery bags. We can ask our grocers to stock more bulk items, and bring in our own containers to fill up on them. We can join one of the many food co-ops, where reducing packaging waste has long been part of the, er, package. We can skip the pre-cut or plastic-wrapped produce and head straight for the real deal.

Do you have your own tips for reducing food packaging waste? Let us know in the comments!

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Read more: Conscious Consumer, Do Good, Food, Green, Green Kitchen Tips, Life, Money, News & Issues

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Katie Waldeck

Katie is a freelance writer focused on pets, food and women’s issues. A Chicago native and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Katie now lives in Oakland, California.


+ add your own
2:08AM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

I disagree with the statement about the practicality of these stores, The false luxury we have created with most modern stores is causing an environmental nightmare with wasteful over packaging. Lack of choice in the sizes of a product leads to wasted food. And 85% of our prepackaged foods are full of GMOs and chemicals and have caused a national health crisis with obesity and diabetes rates skyrocketing. I don't see a store where you can buy only the amount you need, are required to provide containers and bags, and that sells only real food that you actually have to cook as impractical. I see it as a necessity if our planet is to survive.

8:17AM PDT on Jul 1, 2014

I work in a grocery store and it's disappointing the amount of waste and the amount of plastic bags used in a day.

8:47PM PDT on Jun 29, 2014

I think this is a super idea. I watched on PBS that grocery stores throw out enough food to feed the hungry of the world 3X over, every year.

8:46PM PDT on Jun 29, 2014

I think this is a super idea. I watched on PBS that grocery stores throw out enough food to feed the hungry 3X over every year.

3:02AM PDT on Jun 29, 2014


9:04AM PDT on Jun 28, 2014


3:01PM PDT on Jun 26, 2014


5:57AM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

4:21AM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

Thanks for sharing!!

7:33AM PDT on Jun 25, 2014

I totally agree with... almost everything Katie says in this article. The only point where we might slightly disagree is this: "This kind of grocery store is for customers that have the time, money and know-how to cook for themselves, and many people just don’t have that luxury." While I agree that money and time are luxuries, the know-how is not... Know-how is an asset, maybe even one's most precious asset, but it's not a luxury. Time and money can easily be taken away, but know-how is a lot more difficult to loose, fortunately.
I'd like to use this opportunity to thank everyone who brought me some know-how; my Mom, my Mémé, my sister, my friends, my cousins... and even Care2, with all those cool articles about food and cooking!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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