Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
With each of us producing some 250 kg of plastic wrapping rubbish a year, it might sound like a good idea to stop. But how do you do this if almost every single grocery shop and every supermarket in town – including the organic ones – offers its products pre-packed and pre-wrapped in plastic?
For someone who grew up in the 1980s Eastern Europe, where practically every shop looked like an environmentally-conscious Bio-Laden with goods offered in big boxes, barrels or crates to be filled into own bags and baskets, it might not be hard to envision a solution: you do just that. But Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbowski, the women behind the new Berlin-Kreuzberg packaging-free supermarket Original Unverpackt (Originally Unpacked), could tell you long stories about trying to start trading with wrapping-free goods and often hitting another plastic wall.
After the massive crowd-funding success which brought them well over the double of the originally sought funding, the young entrepreneurs managed to create a shop offering over 350 different products sold in a manner guaranteeing the lowest possible negative impact on the environment: they provide the goods, you come with your own bag or container (alternatively, you rent one out or buy directly at their shop) and pay.
Dry goods such as cereals are offered in large bulk bins provided with a lever and an opening at the bottom: you hold your container (jar, box, paper bag) underneath, press and let gravity do its job. In case of liquids – milk, oil, wine or even vodka – a similar principle is in use but instead of the lever, the containers are armed with a small tap.
Obviously, some products which by law need to follow far stricter hygiene regulations, such as cheese and its vegetarian alter ego – tofu, must be purchased pre-packed. But even here there is a way around the rubbish wrapping: the containers are reusable and can be returned to the shop after having paid a little Pfand (deposit).
The first hurdle on Wolf´s and Glimbowski´s way was the discovery that some goods they wish to have on offer simply do not exist in un-pre-packed editions. Take tomato puree (Tomatenmark) or deep-frozen pizza: both goods are available exclusively in ready-made packaging. Ditto toothpaste and toilet paper. Although as for the latter, the shop-owners might want to cross Germany´s Eastern border and check out the excellent if aesthetically inferior to its “4-layered, bleached and scented” incarnation, re-cycled TP Made in Poland. Sold in single rolls and wrapped in recycled paper as well.
The toothpaste quandary could be solved by filling the gap with small chewable toothpaste pills sold, obviously, per piece. For toilet paper you need to go elsewhere, though. However, shampoo, creams and lotions are on offer using the same principle as in the case of potable and edible liquids: from the tap.
Still, despite having come up trumps through solving many smaller and bigger problems – such as preventing the delivery companies from wrapping the wooden pallets with what feels like endlessly long sheets of plastic foil (they will be using belts instead) – the owners of Original Unverpackt will still have to see their business idea come through as both convenient and convincing for the potential clients.
Supporting the principle of a packaging-free shop is one thing but having to buy your groceries using own shopping bag, boxes and jars might be a bit of a burden. Plus, your will can get weaker as your shopping gets weightier. Packaging-free shopping is nothing for wimps, clearly.
There is hope, though. It might be that we are ready to take that challenge these days. With the shouts and murmurs of complaint about over-abundance, over-stimulation and the general over-lightness-of-being heard from more and more of latte-macchiato´ed corners, we might be ready to make our lives a little less cushy and smooth. It is possible that we will find long-forgotten joy at handling real-looking food and dragging well-laden non-plastic bags to the 4th-floor flat in an Altbau. It is likely that we will enjoy swallowing that raw pill more than we enjoy chewing on a sweet but brand-heavy gum.
Tomorrow, with the shop´s official opening and its first day of rubbish-free sales the experiment begins. Get you cotton bags, collect yer little bins and boxes and come to have a taste of what might be the plastic-free future in the making.
ORIGINAL UNVERPACKT, Wiener Strasse 16, 10999 Berlin-Kreuzberg; U1 Görlitzer Bhf; open Mon-Fri 8am – 8pm and Sat 9am – 7pm; official opening September 13th at 9am.