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A Sustainable Design Blog

Grocery Stores Without Packaging

Living in Madison, WI, we were spoiled by the impressive bulk section at the Willy Street Co-op. Not only could we refill our snack, grain, flour, and nut containers, but also our oils, liquid soaps, and various condiments. Because of this, we reduced our trips to the recycling bin to once every two months, and our trips to the trash bin to every 3-5 months. No joke. Think of all the stuff you throw away and I’ll bet that packaging makes up the vast majority of it. But do we really need all those containers? Some grocery stores are saying no, and leaving you little choice in the matter.

Even before Europe started debating a ban on plastic bags, a little London store called Unpackaged dared to suggest that their patrons bring their own containers and bags to fill. A year later a store with the same mission, In.gredients, opened in Austin, TX. Not exactly a market flood, but it's heartening to see this trend catching on and thriving. As these stores point out on their websites, packaging is not only wasteful, but is something that you pay for, and when you think about it, you're paying for that box, bag, or carton just to take it home and throw it away. It's a waste of your money.

As sustainable designers of packaging, we do everything in our power to reduce the amount of material that is used, to use low-impact printing methods, and to use commonly recyclable materials. We also encourage our clients to provide bulk options for those customers that want to reduce their waste and their cost. Until we can zero out the impact of packaging on the environment, it's important for producers and manufacturers to provide bulk options and to encourage retailers to offer them. The reduction in packaging isn't just good for the environment, it's great for the bottom line.

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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