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!