Living waste-free is can be a difficult when you are just starting out, so it definitely helps when you have support from a like-minded community. If you live in a bigger town or a city, you may be lucky enough to find a packaging-free store. These are revolutionary shops that sell a diverse range of food products and other household goods, but without any of the conventional packaging. Instead, you can buy reusable containers to fill, or you can just bring your own!
How does a packaging-free store work?
Doing your weekly shopping in a packaging-free store is a bit less simple than the standard shop, but I also find it much more fun! What’s more, in the shops that I have visited, the attendants are always friendly and very happy to help you.
The motions are pretty much the same in every store you visit. If you are buying containers, they probably have a set weight that is already logged in the cashier’s system, so you can just fill them up directly. But if you are bringing your own jars, here is what to do:
1) Weigh your empty jars.
Before you start filling your jars, you need to know how much they weigh so you are not charged for their weight. All you have to do is go to the weighing scales (every store will have one!), put your jar on and write down the number on a piece of paper. Remember which number belongs to which jar!
2) Fill up your jars!
Now you can fill your jars with whatever you want! Most foods are dried and loose, found in dispensers mounted on the wall. If your jar is too small for the dispenser, there will most likely be funnels or jugs on hand to stop you from spilling stuff everywhere (I have definitely done that before…). There may also be boxes and pots for you to take food from using tongs or spoons. The amount of food taken is judged by weight, or by millilitres for liquids.
3) Pay for your purchases.
When you have everything that you want, go to the cashier and pay. They will weigh each of your jars, and minus the original weight of the jar that you give them, so that you only pay for the weight of the food inside. I prefer to say no if they offer a receipt, since receipts printed on thermal paper cannot be recycled, but that is up to you.
And ta da! You just did your first packaging-free shop!
Are there packaging-free stores in Germany?
The world’s first packaging-free store, Original Unverpackt, was founded in Berlin in 2014, and other shops were quick to catch on. I have personally visited two of these: Ohne Laden in Munich, and Schüttgut in Stuttgart.
Ohne der verpackungfreie Supermarkt- Munich
Ohne is Munich’s first packaging-free and organic bulk store. It is a lovely, large store that is based near Ludwig-Maximilians Universität (LMU). It had a huge range of dried food, including all sorts of müsli, lentils, beans, nuts and pasta. They also sell vinegar, oil, alcohol and even cleaning products “vom fass”, and have lots of other plastic-free household products. I love that Ohne prides itself on being local and organic, selling so-called “ugly” fruit and vegetables from a local start up and with many products coming from local bakeries and distilleries.
Another first, Schüttgut is Stuttgart’s first packaging-free bulk store. Based just two stops on the metro from Berliner Platz, it is easily accessible, and although it looks like a very small shopfront from the outside, they had a huge range of food and other products to buy. All of their produce is seasonal and organic, and on their website they highlight the importance of reducing food waste and the importance of only consuming what you really need.
What I particularly liked about Schüttgut was that they had a lot of bulk cleaning products, from dishwashing liquid to bathroom cleaner. What’s more, you could make your own coffee grounds from full beans sold in the store! One small downside however was that they print labels for you to stick on your jars to note the weight, but I don’t know whether they are plastic or not. But overall, Schüttgut is a fantastic shop and is my closest packaging-free store (still a two hour bus ride, but beggars can’t be choosers!), so I shall definitely be stopping there more regularly.
All of these zero waste shops that I have posted about can be found on the NWB map, along with many other stores, organic markets, bulk buying shops and eco restaurants!
And soon… Konstanz?
So far, we are yet to see a packaging-free store in Konstanz. Although we do have local online retailers of plastic-free goods, it would be fantastic to see a local store, as I think it would make the waste-free lifestyle more accessible to the public. What’s more, what I loved about visiting both Ohne and Schüttgut was seeing other people coming into the store with their own mason jars and boxes, filling them up and walking out, creating almost zero waste. It was awesome to mix with other people who cared about living waste-free like I did, who have made the effort to change the way that they shop to reduce their impact on the environment. I think the Konstanz community would really benefit from having a packaging-free store here, and be inspired to start living waste-free.
And we are working hard to get a packaging-free store in Konstanz! I have teamed up with Back to Nature – Unverpackt Konstanz and Susan Roßner from Monomeer to connect with other like-minded individuals who are living or want to start living a plastic-free life. We hope to encourage and inspire others to go plastic-free, and we hope that the growing support network for the zero-waste community will help us to bring Unverpackt Konstanz to life!