Imagine a supermarket where there is no disposable packaging. There are no shelves lined with single use boxes or plastic containers. Instead shelves hold products ready for dispensing into reusable containers.
This may seem like a far cry from the debates Americans have over banning single use bags but these zero-waste supermarkets are slowly becoming a reality. Original Unverpackt opened in Germany in 2014, selling some 350 products including produce, dry grains and dairy such as yogurt. All ready for customers to place into reusable containers. A similar zero-packaging supermarket is set to open in Copenhagen this summer and another hopes to open by the end of the year in Vancouver.
Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, is one of a growing number of people around the world paying attention to the crazy amount of waste involved in our daily lives and in our food supply. Food and the packaging containers it comes in account for as much as 45 percent of the materials in US landfills. They waste energy and resources, generate greenhouse gases and contribute to the growing problem of plastics in the oceans.
Recycling was once thought of as the answer, but more than 30 years after the first mandated curbside recycling in the US, the practice has yet to widely catch on in any substantial way. Americans still only recycle 51 percent of food packaging and less than 14 percent of plastic packaging.
A zero-waste lifestyle like the one Johnson leads and zero waste supermarkets are attempting to stop the waste problem before it starts. Micro grocer In.gredients in Austin opened in 2012 and at least one more zero-waste US supermarket is in the planning stages. In general, prices at these supermarkets tend to be similar to those in a traditional market, and the fill-your-own container can prevent both food waste and save customers money as they only buy what they need.
“The zero waste lifestyle does not cost more: it saves us 40 percent on our overall spending! It does not take more time: voluntary simplicity has allowed for our housework and professional work to be more efficient (what we do not own, does not need to be bought, stored, cleaned, maintained, repaired, replaced, recycled, etc.),” Johnson said.
Although the zero-waste lifestyle is not for everyone, the rise of zero-waste supermarkets or even adapting a zero-waste shopping style have the potential to dramatically improve the food system, the environment and maybe even our overall quality of life.