It’s not often a retail store wants you to buy less. But that’s the sole mission at Original Unverpackt zero-waste shops.
All products sold in both of their brick and mortar locations have less packaging and less waste so consumers leave a much smaller environmental footprint. The concept is simple – bring your own containers (or purchase the reusable ones they offer in-store) and keep your mostly dry-goods and household item shopping as minimal as possible.
Each year, 8 tons of plastic end up in our oceans. That’s the equivalent of one truckload of plastic garbage per minute. Making a deliberate effort to cut back on waste has obvious environmental benefits, but for Ria Schäfli, Marketing Manager at OU, zero waste shopping is a gateway to other benefits as well.
“In the end, you can actually save money, because when you have a minimalist lifestyle you have less… You also spend less, even though sometimes the things you buy may be more expensive.”
Transparent bins line the walls of the Wiener Straße store. They’re filled with most of the ingredients you’d need to make a hearty winter soup: lentils, pasta, chickpeas and an assortment of dried spices. But OU also sells teas, oils and a plethora of household items – all of which are displayed in bulk so you can take only what you need.
The concept of reducing waste can seem overwhelming. If you’re just getting started, you may look around your home and see red flags everywhere – cardboard cereal boxes, an endless row of plastic spice jars, and clear plastic wrapping on fruits and vegetables. But Schäfli suggests to simply start one step at a time.
“Start in your kitchen and look at your shopping [habits], so maybe start with buying fruits and vegetables without plastic. And…when you feel like your kitchen is more or less plastic-free, go to your bathroom. Check your cosmetics. Step by step and not everything at once,” she says.
To build a grocery list, simply create one as you normally would – jot down the items you need, making a note of what can be bought with zero waste. If you’re like most Berliners, you’ll need to make more than one stop anyway, so you can grab your organic produce from the traditional supermarket and pick up everything else from the zero waste shop.
It’s impossible to go plastic-free overnight so it might require several shopping trips, likely over the course of a few months, but with each step, you’ll get closer to reducing your footprint. If that’s still too much, just go into an OU store with an open mind. Explore the shelves and see the options without making any purchases so when you’re back at home, you can start to plan how you’ll begin the shopping phase.
OU founder Milena Glimbovski opened the first store in 2015 after raising capital through a crowdfunding effort. Since then, her team has been zero waste trailblazers, both locally and internationally with coverage from major publications like the New York Times. There are now two locations of the store, and they continuously stock new organic items.
While you might step into an OU store prepared to walk away with edible goods, you’ll likely be amazed at the variety of offerings, including reusable produce bags, eco-friendly toothbrushes and Schafli’s favorite product, the fully natural hard shampoo. It’s an easy product to start with and is completely organic without the foaming chemical surfactants that we’ve been tricked into thinking equate to cleanliness.
You might also notice the store’s layout. It’s one that flows effortlessly and is easy to navigate with designated sections for each type of product. This was no accident for Glimbovski, who designed the shop. The second store, opened in October 2019, is a culmination of what the team picked up from the first shop. “We always try to take care that there’s room for the containers. The UO team thinks through the shopping experience to ensure the layout is as easy as possible for the customers.” Extra consideration was also taken for the kind of shopping. More space, for example, accommodates for any containers someone might be carrying with them.
By taking even one step towards a zero waste lifestyle, you can join a growing legion of those doing their part to make the world a better place.
OU hopes to continue to expand so that their stores are easy for everyone to reach. “…when we opened our shop 5 years ago, nobody knew the concept. Now it’s just normal. In Germany, there are more than 100 zero-waste stores, and that’s quite a good development.”
- ORIGINAL UNVERPACKT
- Wiener Straße 16, 10999 Berlin
- Mo – Sa, 11 Uhr – 20 Uhr
- Großbeerenstraße 27A, 10965 Berlin
- Mo – Sa, 11 Uhr – 19 Uhr