Have you ever gone grocery shopping and gotten upset at the amount of plastic containers that line the shelves? Have you ever wondered if there could possibly be an alternative to plastic wrappers, boxes, and bags that we, in this consumeristic, capitalistic society have gotten so used to? Even Whole Foods, a grocery chain that promotes organic food, offers mainly plastic bags and plastic containers in their buy-food-in-bulk section (for produce like flour, rice, beans, nuts, and cereal). At least Chicago—like Evanston —has recently implemented a law that stores can no longer give away plastic shopping bags without a charge. This is a small step towards change. If you are anything like me, desperate to make at least a small change in the world, idealistically thinking that through communal efforts we can save the planet, end world hunger, and replace wars with non-violent dialogue, you have maybe also wondered whether there is a grocery store with no plastic containers, bags, wraps, or boxes.
In 2012, Milena Glimbovski and Sara Wolf sat together to make this idea, which sounds idealistic and far fetched at best, a reality. They opened Original Unverpackt (Originally not-wrapped) after two years of preparation in Berlin. The store produces no plastic waste at all. Here, shoppers fill their produce into mason jars from bigger glass containers. Similar to the bulk section at Whole Foods, this gives the consumer control over the amount of food they want to buy, instead of being held hostage by what food companies deem necessary. The consumer brings a reusable glass container, or borrows one from the store. Plastic becomes unnecessary! Original Unverpackt even sells fresh produce like cheese, fruits, and vegetables — according to their video, everything that a “normal” supermarket also sells, but fresh and without the plastic packaging.
Milena Glimbovski describes that the idea to open a store that creates “zero waste”was there, at some point, but took a while to fully formulate. She describes the creative process to the a-ha moment. The creativity of Original Unverpackt lies within the originality (pun intended) of the idea, and the process of taking the norm and transforming it into something completely new.
Consider the motivation behind the creative process: the team of Original Unverpackt states on the website that their work is so important because “140 million tons of waste lies in the oceans, floats in the water, and drifts to the beaches” (quote originally in german form Welt Online). The plastic that pollutes nature comes from us, the consumers. According to The World Counts, "we dump a massive 2.12 billion tons of waste [each year]. If all this waste was put on trucks they would go around the world 24 times."
The motivation that drove Milena Glimbovski and Sara Wolf to open their store was therefore mostly externally motivated. They understood that they could change the statistics, even only by a few digits.
While the concept of a waste-free store is amazing and very popular, it is questionable whether the concept would survive around the world. Germans take pride in their environmental consciousness, and it is no surprise to me that two young, practical entrepreneurs opened Original Unverpackt in Berlin. It would be a big step for our if the concept of no-waste consumption were adapted in more places. Maybe—hopefully you are inspired and consider taking mason jars to Whole Foods the next time you buy food in bulk.