In May 2014, a team of entrepreneurs had doubled their fundraising goal with three weeks left in their campaign. Their idea? To build a grocery store in Berlin's trendy but humble Kreuzberg district which would sell products without any disposable packaging. Zero waste. Zero plastic. Simple. Pure.
It is always exciting to hear about these ideas for changing the world. But do you often wonder whatever happened? In this case, it's good news. Original Unverpackt opened for business on the 13th of September, 2014. They celebrate their three year anniversary tomorrow.
The concept has proven itself successful. Asked how business is going, Oliver, who was tending the store during our visit, replied:
"Plastic is a trending topic. That is all advertising for us. (Plastik ist ein Riesenthema. Das ist alles Werbung fuer Uns)"
How does shopping work when the products are all unpackaged?
First, shoppers have to bring their containers from home, or purchase some of the reusable containers on offer at the store.
Each container is weighed empty and its tare weight is noted by the customer. The scale has the option to produce a printed sticker with the tare weight, but currently the system is out of order and the customer can write the tare weight on the container with a nearby marker -- perhaps this is less a malfunction than one more source of waste minimization. The current system depends on the customer to honestly report the empty weight.
Bulk goods in hoppers or canisters can then be dumped or poured into the reusable containers. Cloth sacks serve as convenient receptacles for dry goods.
Original Unverpackt offers about 600 products, ranging from spices to shampoos. The spice selection spurs culinary fantasy and the shampoos on offer even cover hair types from dry to oily and dandruff.
Obviously, not selling meat is a big part of avoiding the slice-on-Styrofoam approach to food hygiene. The owner, in talks about her experience, discusses the problematic cases in supplying products, such as tofu which is very difficult to find without plastic. Glass containers with deposits offered a solution to the hygiene and convenience versus plastic problem. The store's focus is also more on local than organic, when it comes to a choice.
The simple floor plan with aisles on either side of a central island in a back room and produce, baked goods, and smoothies on offer in the front room promotes traffic efficiency through the store. Some of the charm of the old store dates back to its former life as a butcher shop.
The founder, Milena Glimbovski has given several TEDx talks to share her story such asTEDx Munich (German); her presentation at TEDx Berlin on Zero Waste is in English. The store is offering an on-line course on starting a Zero-waste store, in English in how to open a similar grocery store to spread the idea.
If your German is up to it or you are willing to poke around to find the English bits, you can read more about Original Unverpackt at their website Original Unverpackt (German) or at Original Unverpackt on facebook (German).