Zero Waste Bulk Stores around the World #1: Unverpackt Kiel in Kiel, Germany

Two months ago we had the pleasure to meet Béa Johnson. We traveled all the way up north to Unverpackt Kiel – the very first zero waste bulk store that opened in February 2014 in Kiel, Germany, inspired by Béa Johnson! What can I say – I fell in love with this gorgeous store! This isn’t just some store that has decided to install a bulk aisle – Marie Delaperrière opened this store to enable her customers to buy everything they need on a day-to-day basis completely zero waste – almost 100% organic! Seriously – just how awesome is that ❤️?

These kinds of zero waste bulk stores focus on sustainable practices and usually only offer bulk items or at least the most eco-friendly alternatives ❤️!! I have only heard of comparable stores in the Netherlands so far. Not really surprising – if you have been to the Netherlands you’ll understand 😁!

In German, “unverpackt” means unpackaged. Ever since this very first “unverpackt” store opened almost two years ago, the concept of selling in bulk and reducing waste by reducing packaging has become more and more popular. Up until this point I don’t think anybody had ever even seen a bulk bin in Germany! The next store (called Original Unverpackt) opened just six months later in Berlin with a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign and a lot of media coverage.

Unverpackt Kiel

Isn’t it just gorgeous? #BulkIsBeautiful ❤️

Since then, more and more package-free stores (some are rather package-less than package-free though, probably seeing a profitable niche there) have opened or are about to open. My list that I had started September 2014 has grown from measly 4 entries to 22 in just over a year! Fingers crossed that all the people saying they love the idea will actually spend money there! (Everybody keeps telling me they love, love, looove the idea and think this “should be supported”, but then they still buy all of their groceries at one of the numerous “discount supermarkets” here, because I guess they rather leave the “supporting” part to somebody else 😢.)

How does it work to shop there?

How does zero waste shopping work

I love how they have a placed a graphical explanation of how it works right next to the entrance. “1. Weigh your empty containers. 2. Fill in however much you want. 3. Pay and go home happy.” – so cute :D!! And it’s on a blackboard, which means they can just erase and re-write it however they want! No need for new posters!

Weigh your containers

Weigh your containers

So, yes, first of all, you should bring your own containers, cloth bags, or jars and weigh them on this scale. A sticker will be printed with the weight of your container that you can stick onto it. The great thing about this store – you don’t have to use the sticker system! You can also use a marker if you want to and they will tare it when you pay for everything.

Containers for ZW grocery shopping

 

If you don’t own suitable containers, you can either buy very pretty and affordable ones there (the cloth bags are made from Fairtrade organic cotton) that you can use again and again and again – or you can help yourself to some jars that other people have donated! There is a box where you can donate jars you feel like you don’t really need. What a great idea!

Oh right, or you can buy one of the paper bags, even though they do encourage you to use the donated jars instead.

How to fill your containers, jars, or cloth bags

Funnels

To help you fill your containers, they have funnels in various sizes, bowls, and spoons. You will find these right next to the coffee station, which I personally found very tempting since they sell climate-neutral Fairtrade organic coffee! Just as a side-note to show how much effort they put into every detail :).

Explaining how to use their bulk bins

To help you with their bulk bins, they have put up very easy to understand explanations everywhere.

Musterregal Unverpackt Kiel

What I found extremely helpful is their “sample shelves”! They are there to give you an idea of how much e.g. 500 grams of rice is in a jar. And How much it will cost you.

Musterregal

Another sample shelf 🙂

We are so used to the price per package that we do not really know if something is cheap or expensive when we see its price per 100 grams, right?

The selection

Produce

Sticker-free produce!!

They have a small section for (sticker-free :D!!) produce and eggs and a fridge with dairy products in returnable jars and glass bottles (you pay a 20 cent deposit).

Legumes

They have legumes, dry soy meat, grains, pasta, rice to make sure we all get enough protein XD. Just kidding. I’m vegan, and for some reason people always ask me if I watch my protein intake. I actually do, do YOU though :P? (FYI – grains are also a great source for protein, in case you were wondering why I listed these here.)

They also have a great selection of cereal, seeds, and nuts.

Sweets, coffee, tea in bulk

Here you see the bulk bin for coffee and a wide range of teas, plus – my favorite – CAAAANDYYYY! “Of course” they have vegan sweets – OMG ❤️!

Candy in bulk

Another photo of candy in bulk – just because 😝!!

Gewürze

They also have a great selection of spices, plus baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder, and flour (on the same shelf). Not as awesome as candy, but um, I do have to admit they are probably more useful in the kitchen?

Shampoo bars

An impressive selection of shampoo bars made locally! I use rye flour to wash my hair, but I still couldn’t resist to at least have a sniff XD.

Menstrual Cup

The cup you see on the right hand side is NOT a menstrual cup by the way! It is the sterilizer. You boil your menstrual cup in it in the microwave to desinfect it between your periods.

Now for the ladies – menstrual cups. Ruby Cup is a young enterprise with a social mission: It’s buy one give one to a girl in Kenya so girls won’t have to miss school because they are on their period (which apparently does happen).

Cleaning products

If you are into cleaning – I’m not – this is where you can go crazy 😝. Dish wash, laundry detergent, and all sorts of other cleaning products. Personally, I’m good with only white vinegar, baking soda and alep soap though. But I do see that many people wouldn’t want to switch to homemade dish soap or laundry detergent, so I think it’s great to have these options.

Cleaning products

I just had to show you this! Aren’t these just adorable ❤️? And a smart and easy solution for the dripping too!

climate-neutral candles

And they sell something that is so hard to come by – eco-friendly candles!

Normal candles are made from petroleum, so obviously they are not sustainable, duh! However, a lot of supposedly “eco-friendly” candles are made from either soy wax or palm oil, making us think they are sustainable when they are not – boooh!

Soy in general has come to have a rather bad reputation because of GMO and the social impact of soybean agriculture. So when you do buy soy, make sure it is organic (hence GMO free) and locally grown. However, if your soy wax candles are not organic, they are probably not sustainable.

Palm oil is an even more terrifying environmental and social disaster! Rainforests play an important role in the global carbon cycle. However, an estimated 2,000 trees are cut down every minute – to a great part illegally – to make room for palm oil tree plantations. This leads to monocultural farming, water pollution, and thousands of animals being critically endangered! Even though there is “organic” palm oil, it seems to be little more than greenwashing.

Another more or less sustainable option is beeswax candles. However, the practice of farming honey and beeswax has led to overbred bees that are now suffering a dramatic decline in population. This in turn is threatening the entire agriculture.

So what are these candles made of? They are made from locally sourced, GMO free plant oils! No palm oil, no crude oil, no animal fat, compostable and climate-neutral ❤️!! Eat that, pseudo eco-friendly candles!

Liquids in bulk

Sooo, um, where were we 😝…? Right, talking about oil. What you see here are all sorts of cooking oils and vinegars in small stainless steel barrels. They also sell juice in returnable bottles.

Booze in bulk

Not sure about the wine though? I assume the bottles are returnable and they use real cork? Don’t know about the plastic (?) seal either? I don’t drink wine so I guess I didn’t pay enough attention to ask XD… Sorry about that 😉

But now to the fun part – booze in bulk! I feel like this deserves its own all-caps hashtag, so here we go #BOOZEINBULK 😂!! Whoohoo!

Just so you know: Béa Johnson was very impressed by the whole selection in this store! Especially by – ta-daaa – the BOOZE ;)! As she pointed out, she herself does not have access to this many things in bulk where she lives (I believe it was San Francisco?)! So theoretically, whoever has access to this gorgeous zero waste store should be able to reduce their waste to even less than Béa Johnson 😉! Just sayin’…

Now to the slightly less fun part – parting with your money 😝💸

Unverpackt Kiel register

At the register they weigh each item and subtract the weight of the container. It’s easy and doesn’t take as long as one might expect.

Compared to other health food stores I think you get good value for your money. Well, 15% of what we pay for an item, we pay for its packaging. So it is not too surprising :D.

So if you ever get the chance – do pay this great store and Marie a visit! Have a cup of delicious climate-neutral organic Fairtrade coffee, try some of the sweets, grab a sticker-free apple for later!

Tour More Zero Waste Bulk Stores Around the World

  1. GOODsONLY in Zutphen, the Netherlands
  2. Green on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada

7 Comments

  1. Hope one day this kind of stores will open in France. We have some kind of but not totally zero waste.
    Thank you so much for this blog post, it inspires me a lot !!
    And really sorry for my english

    • I, too, really do hope that this store concept will spread like wildfire :)!! And France is pretty close and has a lot of zero wasters, so I’m sure it will not take too long for stores to pop up in France!!
      And I don’t think there was anything wrong with your English ;)!!

  2. I really like the concept of their shop! I can rarely find shops that are selling groceries without the plastic packaging. I would like to reduce the waste me and my family create. Good job for the girls that opened the zero-waste store!

    • It is indeed a great concept, and I do hope it will spread like wildfire ;)! However, I do find that bulk is everywhere. We just need to find it. The next zero waste bulk store is an hour away by train from where we live and just opened 2 months ago. It is really cool to be able to get rid of the last bit of packaging (e.g. salt, sugar, baking soda), but having a store like this is not a prerequisite for a low to zero waste lifestyle :).

  3. Such stores in India were once the norm, one down the street or just round the corner in every area be it a town or a city. They are called ‘kirana’ stores. One could purchase any odd quantity as per one’s need and it would be wrapped in paper/ cloth bags or filled in steel/tin boxes. Most families used old cloth or school uniforms especially pinafores to convert into bags specially for “going to the market”. Due to the advent of supermarkets most of these ‘kirana’ shops lost a lot of business as it was more convenient to just purchase pre-packaged goods (also a sign of modernity) and eventually they shut down.
    Though farmers markets are growing in number, it will be a while before people realise the ecological efficacy of this concept.
    Your articles are always inspirational! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Inspiration for nature friendly lifestyle | Lookforsmile

  5. You can find stores like that in Malaysia. Only very small shops, but it works well. They even offer some workshops, how to do your own Soaps,….
    And at least the prices of the products are affordable.

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