If you've ever been annoyed with the bag of cereal inside a box (why not just have a bag, like potato chips have?), or found yourself wrangling with two layers of plastic just to get to your chocolate bar, you probably love the idea of a package-free grocery store.
But zero waste at the supermarket isn't such a crazy dream; a new store in Germany is promising exactly that.
The Original Unverpackt, in the Friedrichshain Kreuzberg district of Berlin, is a project of two university dropouts, Sara Wolf and Miena Glimbovski, who have spent two years putting the concept together. They crowdfunded the project, and the idea proved so popular they are more than doubly funded.
The store will source food locally to reduce transportation costs and energy use, and will offer many items from gravity bins (like those pictured above, which let gravity do the work of dispensing the food). Containers that can be reused will be available, or better yet, you can bring your own. They'll also carry non-food stuff like cleaning products and personal care items.
(The upshot of bringing your own jars is that you can make your pantry and countertops look pretty; I get most of my food bulk at my local co-op and jars of nuts, dried fruits, sesame seeds, peanut butter, kamut, brown sugar, and the rest all look just lovely lined up next to each other as compared to all the ugly packaging one would see with conventionally packaged foods.)
The German project isn't the only grocery store fighting wasteful packaging: Ingredients, in Austin, Texas was first. They offer hyperlocal food and beverages that are filled in customers' own containers (they offer reusable containers at the store too), an idea they call "precycling." Called a microstore, it is convenience-store in size, but grocery-store-like in scope, and they've been open since 2012.
Of course, plenty of stores have been doing some version of reduced packaging for years; the First Alternative Natural Foods Coop in Corvallis, Oregon, where I do most of my shopping, offers all dry goods (including herbs and spices, baking goods and pastas, dried fruit and beans) in bulk, and plenty of others too, including tofu, mozzarella cheese, eggs, kombucha, honey, hazelnut butter, mustard and shampoo, body lotion, oils, henna, soaps and pet foods too). I bring my own jars and containers, my own cloth bags (the store provides only recycled cardboard boxes if you forget your bags), and a couple of produce baggies for small items and lettuce. I'm probably using half or less than half of the packaging I used to shopping at a Whole Foods in Connecticut before I moved.
So even if you don't have a zero-waste grocery in your town, you can still cut down on the packaging you use by planning ahead, and patronizing those businesses that offer bulk-food buying. Farmers markets are great in this way too — you can give the farmer any packaging right back for reuse.
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