Walk down the aisles of a typical grocery store, and basically everything is in a package–in some stores, even the produce is shrink-wrapped. Since an average supermarket has around 42,000 different products, getting rid of that packaging isn’t exactly easy; a grocer that wants to eliminate waste has to rethink their entire supply chain. That hasn’t stopped a few pioneers from trying. The latest is a Berlin store called Original Unpacked (Original Unverpackt), now raising funds on the crowdfunding site Startnext.
“Our goal is that shopping will never be the same,” the founders write in German on the site. “No disposable cups, no shrink-wrapped vegetables, no plastic bags in cardboard boxes, and no Tetrapaks.” Instead, the store will essentially be a giant bulk bin, and customers will bring their own packaging or rent it from the grocery.
That means certain products won’t be available. Instead of toothpaste in a tube, you’ll have to buy tooth-cleaning tablets or powder. If you want potato chips, you’ll have to buy some potatoes and fry them up at home.
But the founders think the lack of choice actually makes for a better shopping experience; everything that will be sold in the store has been carefully vetted as the best option, like a porcini mushroom pasta made by a local manufacturer. If you buy it, you won’t have to worry about it whether it will be good. “Shopping no longer has to be just a stroll into the neon-lit hell of blind faith, but will finally be fun again,” the founders write.
The store itself is clean and modern, and trying to distance itself from the hippie vibe of the typical bulk bin section at a natural food coop. “We want shopping to be beautiful again,” the founders say. “And our environment should benefit from it.”
Will it work? The crowdfunding campaign has already more than doubled its goal, and the founders plan to open their first location later this summer. But similar efforts in the past haven’t lasted; a store called Unpackaged in London went out of business, and Austin-based in.gredients, the first packaging-free store in the U.S., recently announced that they will focus on other goals (like zero waste) but start to offer packaged food.
And then there’s the counterintuitive fact that, in some cases, packaging actually helps the environment. Plastic packaging can make beef last a full three weeks longer, for example, and Tetrapaks can extend the life of milk for nine months. Considering that 1.3 billion metric tons of food are wasted every year–and vastly more energy goes into producing food than the tiny bit of plastic around it–maybe a little packaging isn’t always a bad thing.