At This Zero-Waste Grocery Store, Plastic and Packaging Aren't Allowed

When Original Unverpackt makes its debut in Germany, consumers will bring their own containers and bags.

Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.


Although recycling and more efficient packaging-waste efforts have made a dent in the amount of garbage heading to landfills, every day the average American still produces a whopping three pounds of trash, much of it from our food. So what if we could eliminate food-packaging waste before it even gets into our shopping cart? That’s the idea behind Original Unverpackt, a new concept supermarket in Germany that takes things into zero-waste territory by encouraging consumers to tote reusable containers to the store.

The grocery store doesn’t sell anything that comes in a disposable box, bag, jar, or other container. It ditches the traditional supermarket model of shelf after shelf of packaged convenience foods for one that gives shoppers grains in bulk bins, attractively displayed produce that’s not shrink-wrapped or stored in tetra packs, and beverage stations just waiting for refillable bottles.

The store is the brainchild of Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski, two Germany-based social impact innovators. They write on the project’s site that they want consumers to have a choice about how much food they buy as well as how much waste it creates.

German shoppers clearly want Original Unverpackt too. Although much of the effort is financed by private investors, the project’s team took to crowdfunding to raise the final $61,000 it needed to launch in Berlin. With three weeks to go, the team has smashed that goal, raising about $124,000.

The video above is in German, but it’s pretty easy to follow along and check out the concept in action. The Original Unverpackt creators says on their site that although they’re “not big players in the food industry,” they want to show the grocery conglomerates that there’s a more eco-friendly way to sell food. 

As for whether the idea could come to the U.S., it’s hard enough to get Americans to remember to bring reusable bags to the store. But as the Original Unverpackt team notes, this generation has “littered the world,” so maybe the next one has a chance to make it better.

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