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The First Waste-Free Supermarket Set to Open in Berlin!

It’s hard to reduce your waste when 80% of supermarket products are packaged. Buying from farmers markets and in bulk is an effective way to cut back on packaging, but what the world really needs is waste-free supermarkets!

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A new supermarket in Germany is turning waste-free groceries into a reality. Aiming to open its doors this European summer, Original Unvertpackt (translating to Original Unpacked) won’t sell any pre-packaged products, but instead requires customers to BYO bags, containers or jars. The idea was developed by Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski, two German-based social impact innovators, who saw an immediate need for drastic changes to the consumer world. Around 15 million tonnes of packaging gets thrown away every year in Germany alone! It’s this kind of scary statistic that inspired Wolf and Glimbovski to make a change.

Gaining financial support from both private investors and crowd-funding, Wolf and Glimbovski were able to reach their target goal of around $124,000 in just three weeks! The final $61,000 came solely from crowd-funding, which is a pretty good indicator that there’s a desire for eco-friendly consumer options amongst the German people. Original Unvertpackt wants to prove that a waste-free future is possible, with the hope that the concept will catch on internationally.

How it works:

The supermarket includes rows of nicely presented bulk bins where you can fill your own bag, jar or container with ingredients. There are no endless shelves with flashy plastic packets, boxes or tetra packs. Fruit and vegetables are beautifully displayed with no cling wrap or useless packaging, and there are even beverage stations where customers can fill their refillable water bottles. Customers bring their own shopping bags, containers or jars (or whatever vessel they choose!) and can be assured that all produce is good quality, with an emphasis on locally sourced food.

The goals:

- To remodel the consumer world and the shopping experience, so waste-free is the norm.

- No packaging waste after shopping.

- No “fad words” or fake consumer promises, just real food with real ingredients.

- Drastically reduced food waste – the aim is to buy just enough, rather than oversized packages of food that end up going out of date before getting consumed.

- The end of overflowing garbage bins.

- Drastically reduce carbon emissions. Our food and packaging waste are huge contributors to landfill and greenhouse gases.

Although the below video is in German it gives you a pretty good visual idea of how Original Unvertpackt works.

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Original Unverpackt – Der neue Supermarkt from Original Unverpackt on Vimeo.

Info via Humans Are Free and Startnext.

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17 comments to “The First Waste-Free Supermarket Set to Open in Berlin!”

  1. Hmmm, not so easily convinced. We’ve had bulk foods stores for decades in Australia whee you bring in your own containers and you can weigh them on the way in, write the weight on the bottom (I use a sticker) fill them in the store and pay for the difference in weight. Can even top up containers that way if that’s useful (i.e. bring some stuff into the store in the container).

    Now I admit most of these (perhaps all), also sell some packaged materials. Not least because the market for bulk foods alone is maybe not enough to sustain a store and the main market is in fact food conscious and organically oriented consumers so they tend to stock a lot of wholesome and organic commercial packaged products as well.

    Plus, to keep business flowing they provide plastic bags in case you didn’t bring your own container. Why lose my custom because I left my container at home? Something you can do if you have enough customers who don’t forget,

    In Berlin the market may be large enough for some of those extra stands in a sense (large city and very green population), and if it works, there’s a chance in Melbourne or Sydney we could do same but I expect in smaller cities there’ll be a need for a long time yet for a given store to be viable to offer bulk foods (what we call unpackaged food) along with some packaged foods.

    I’m a little wary all the same of the brazen claim “First”. This is an idea and service that is old as the hills.

    1. I agree with Bernd Wechner on the above, however I do have to say it is a step in the right direction and the publicity I have seen this store receive over the past few months for their efforts can only be a good thing in bringing awareness back to those consumers who might not have considered all the waste that is generated from bags and packaging.
      By bringing more awareness to these issues, hopefully this will start to change the mindset of the average consumer who may diligently recycle, but often forgets that the two important steps before that are to reduce or reuse.
      I guess I am hopeful that awareness might help bring the change for better things to come.

    2. I had a little chuckle thinking about today’s upset consumers if they could ONLY buy fresh, local unpackaged food. Just a few generations ago, most people raised some of their own food. They bought the rest of their groceries directly from their local farmer’s market and from the butcher, the baker, the dairy, etc. Shoppers often provided their own containers and carried market shopping bags.

      When we let the corporations take over, we lost a huge encyclopedia of knowlege about how to be self-sufficient, and how to sustain the environment.

    3. You can rent some of their containers if you forget yours, and I am not entirely sure but I think they might even be free and you can return some if you have ones you don’t use, so they will always have plenty.

    1. It’s your language, I am just trying to use it but I believe
      …. unverpackt means unpackaged rather than unpacked.
      Nothing new in my generation where people took their “Einkaufstasche”
      and walked to the “Baecker” “Gemuesehaendler” “Schlachter” and “Milchladen”
      to buy their daily foods which many people still do today in many European towns
      where at weekly outdoor markets local retailers offer all the fresh foods available.
      The problem is that todays consumer is part of a trained “Want Society”
      that buys more than Needed and bad habits will cary over to the next generation
      until the bubble will burst.
      By then I will be checking the GM potatoes from below.

  2. Yes, I have been buying from Aussie Co-Ops for at least 20 years, no packaging etc. This concept has been around since the 70′s, hippies

  3. The U. S. has many health food stores, practicing waste reduction and waste free packaging. It may be the first in Berlin. :)

  4. This is far from new. There were shops in the south of England with bins, vats etc from which the customer scooped/poured food into their own containers, back in the 1980′s. Sadly the giants were more popular with their bright sales gimmicks and they died out, but now we’ve begun to see the light let’s hope this David is stronger than Goliath. I wish them all the very best in their venture.

  5. Unfortunately it is not likely you will reduce the carbon footprint, but probably increase it. The reason is that e.g. in meat, sausage and other animal food production the major footprint comes from the product itself, only a small part from the package , about 2%. As a modern package is protecting the content well, the shelf life of a packed product is much longer, the “best before date” comes much later than for a unpacked product. Studies has shown that the high amount of wasted food has far more impact on the carbon footprint than the package itself. Unpacked food will not last for long. Conclusion: the best way to lower the carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of products thrown away, in comparison to that the package influence of the footprint can be neglected. But of course, if you buy unpacked food and consume 100% of it without any waste at all, then the lowest footprint is reached.

  6. In my father’s shop during WW2 everything was weighed, sugar, tea, butter, lard, margarine, bacon, vegetables, dried fruit (when there was any). There were no stupid sell by dates (you went by appearance and smell). There were no fridges (you kept food in cool places, if milk went off you made it into cheese). Food was rationed so you could not buy more than you needed, you filled up by eating more vegetables. You never wasted anything. There was no obesity. Statistics show we were actually healthier. Of course when peace was declared everyone wanted what they could not get during the War, as time went on this desire grew and multiplied. Today’s greed and waste is the result.

  7. In my father’s shop during WW2 everything was weighed and wrapped by hand. This included butter, margarine, lard, bacon, sugar, tea, vegetables, dried fruit (when there was any). Food was rationed for everyone so you could not purchase more than you required (including shopkeepers’ family). There were no refrigerators so you kept food in cool places, if milk went off you made cheese of it. There was no waste and if you were hungry you ate more home grown vegetables. There was no obesity and statistics show we were actually healthier. There were no stupid sell by dates because you went by appearance and smell. When peace was declared everyone wanted what they couldn’t get during the War. This desire increased and then multiplied creating present day greed and waste.

  8. Package free produce is a great idea. There’s too much plastic wrapping and packaging around our food. Yuck! However, I’ve gotten used to reading nutritional labels, knowing the expiration date and having crisp cookies/crackers. Are labels, dates and crispness soon to be a thing of the past? Do we really need them? I’m sure we can find a happy medium. And the store should also sell containers or cloth bags for people who didn’t bring their own. Like people on holiday for example.

  9. It is another case of back to the future. In the late 50s this was the norm. The grocery store owner weighed the items requested into a sturdy paper bag. The milk and meat and newspapers were delivered daily. Fruit and veg vendors travelling the streets so fresh produce was available two or three days a week. Shops were strip shops, not malls. Most families had one car and public transport was user-friendly. Sunlight soap washed the dishes – and hair. Lux flakes for laundry.

  10. Bananas in Germany?
    If they’re serious about minimising impact, how about just offering locally produced food?
    Or do they have a bio-dome around the corner?

  11. I’m not sure if this has been addressed given the supermarket claims “the aim is to buy just enough, rather than oversized packages of food that end up going out of date before getting consumed”, but has anybody considered what will happen with the inevitable waste? Especially given that the majority of food is still perfectly edible even when it happens to be “out of date”. Sell by dates and best before dates are just constructs of an industry that reinforces capitalism by leading us to believe that are food has become inedible long before that is the case. Given that I do a lot of dumpster diving I think it would be a wonderful initiative of behalf of Original Unverpackt to offer the “out of date” food to charitable organisations or dumpster divers. I would be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this. I would just like to add that as far as I am aware this is nonetheless a profit-centric business venture and the supermarket may not be interested in donating food to potential customers.

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