Image: bcmom via flickr
It's gotten harder and harder over the years to avoid excess packaging when shopping for everyday items, but plans are in the works for a store in Austin (also the home of Whole Foods) that will specialize in local and organic ingredients, but more importantly, will eliminate all packaging from the store. If it succeeds and the bulk trend catches on, the environmental footprint—petroleum consumption and transportation emissions specifically—of our country's grocery runs could be slashed pretty quickly. In.gredients plans to become the country's very first "package-free, zero waste grocery store." GOOD describes the store in this fitting and awesome way: "It's as if the specialty bulk food section rebelled and took over the rest of a traditional grocery store."
GOOD outlines the benefits of bulk food in numbers:
Americans add 570 million pounds of food packaging to their landfills each day, while pre-packaged foods force consumers to buy more than they need, stuffing their bellies and their trash bins: 27 percent of food brought into U.S. kitchens ends up getting tossed out.
A lot of supermarkets now do have bulk food sections for dry goods, but they're obviously a minor part of a much larger store that specializes in bulk packaging. And buying liquids in bulk is not even an option.
Bringing Bulk-Purchasing Back
There used to be stores around the country that had bulk supplies and allowed you to bring refillable containers for those more difficult-to-buy-in-bulk items, like liquid soap and laundry detergent, but those stores have closed, or at least stopped providing the bulk option, one by one. Whole Foods does have a small section for bulk liquid soaps and other small stores likely do as well (feel free to share info about any such stores in the comments below), but again, these sections are all dwarfed by aisles and aisles of plastic bottles and excess packaging.
As long as bulk the alternative and doesn't dominate the store, it's not going to influence people's buying habits—and eliminate waste—on a large scale.
Reducing the Waste Stream
Here are some more numbers for you: about 50 percent of plastic waste in the U.S. is said to come from packaging and containers. According to the EPA, about 31 percent of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. was containers and packaging in 2008. That's 76,760 thousand tons—and less than half of that gets recycled.
Eliminating the option for packaging completely at the store means also eliminating a huge chunk of our nation's waste stream in one easy step.
If a store like In.gredients succeeds, will it push big brands to start providing bulk options in chain stores, and those chain stores to accept and promote those options? It'll be huge if we reach a point where you can bring a refillable bottle into Walmart or Target and fill it with shampoo or laundry detergent, and leave the store carrying all your groceries with no more packaging than you entered with.
In.gredients co-founder Christian Lane said in a press release: "Truth be told, what's normal in the grocery business isn't healthy for consumers or the environment... In addition to the unhealthiness associated with common food processing, nearly all the food we buy in the grocery store is packaged, leaving us no choice but to continue buying packaged food that's not always reusable or recyclable."
This is all, however, only once In.gredients raises the funds it needs to launch, which it is trying to do at IndieGoGo.com.