rubbermaid plasticware

Design for Precycling

Many companies pay lip service to their green initiatives, maximizing the marketing benefits of eco-friendly practices rather than trying to establish real reductions in their environmental impact. Sad, but unfortunately true. According to the UN Global Compact on Climate Change, we are getting pretty close to the point of no return in the amount of damage that is building up, so it is rewarding to see some product design trends that can have a real positive benefit.

One bold new supermarket chain in Berlin, called Original Unverpackt, is cutting through this misleading practice by going green the old-fashioned, and sometimes difficult, way: selling everything in bulk and allowing customers to bring their own containers.

PSFK reported this week on one innovative trend that fits this description – decreasing the amount of packaging we use in transporting goods, either from the factory to the store in product packaging or the plastic and paper bags we use to get the products home. Wal-Mart is a leader in this effort (link to, not necessarily because of any overriding concern for the environment, but because it also saves a lot of money on the packaging materials, transportation costs, and shelf space. Win-win-win.

Everyone gets just as much food as they need, avoiding waste from too-large packages, not to mention the hidden costs of packaging and marketing.

Many jurisdictions are regulating the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. Some stores are charging for bags, encouraging customers to bring reusable bags of their own. Some chains are taking this an order of magnitude further, requiring customers to bring their own packaging for the foods they buy. You are probably familiar with the bulk food dispensers that many grocery stores have in their stores, primarily for nuts, pastas, and perhaps spices. This goes a step further. A supermarket chain in Germany is expanding this model to cheese, cleaning products, cooking staples, and over 400 items in the store. Just like with Wal-Mart, they save a ton on packaging, transportation, and shelf space.

My Take

Think about the user experience here. The customer needs to bring in their containers to bring the products home. Great business for plastic container companies like Rubbermaid or Tupperware. But they are reused, so it is not nearly as wasteful and the savings can be passed along to the consumer. The store also offers a line of reusable containers designed to work with their dispensing system to make it even easier. Another added benefit is the ease with which you can use every bit of what you buy – nothing hidden in the corners of the bag or box. And nothing to throw away in the trash every week either, which saves on trash collection fees (whether you pay for them directly or in your taxes).

Your Turn

Take a look at the photographs of this grocery store at the website we link to above. It doesn’t look nearly as messy as I thought a bulk food store would. The containers look pretty solid as well. Would you be interested in switching to this kind of model? Not just for the ecological benefits, but for the cost savings and the user experience? You get home and all you need to do is put the containers you already use into the closets or shelves where you already store them. I think this is food (pun intended) for some interesting and lively debate. Please feel free to call shenanigans if you disagree.

Image Credit: Rubbermaid

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