Sweden – the pioneers of all things sustainable with only 1% of our household waste going to landfill and an ambitious goal to go completely fossil free over the next few decades. But we’ve been trailing behind in one area while other countries have spead ahead – package-free grocery stores. The “zero waste” movement has been gaining momentum across Europe with stores from Berlin to Paris, and in the US buying in bulk has become the norm.

One of the forerunners of waste-free shops is Unpackaged in London, which started 10 years ago as a market stall, and soon grew into its own shop. It now operates as a shop-in-shop at Planet Organic. Italy wasn’t far behind with Effecorta opening its first store in 2009. In Germany Unverpackt in Kiel was one of the first in 2014, followed the same year by Original Unverpackt in Berlin. There are now around 20 independent stores around the country. France has a chain of stores, Day by Day, in 16 locations, as well as many substantial package-free options within larger supermarkets. Across Europe it’s a similar story with independent stores in Barcelona, Milan, Vienna, Antwerp, Turin, Verona, Utrecht and many more.

Gravity containers at Unpackaged, London
Unpackaged’s previous store in London (www.beunpackaged.com)

In the US, zero waste shops are growing with in.gredients in Austin and The Fillery opening soon in Brooklyn. But Americans have been scooping from the bulk aisles of supermarkets and wholefood stores for years. Albeit with cost-cutting (for the majority), rather than the environment as motivation.  

Shopping package free feels like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the plastic-laden supermarkets we’ve all become so used to. It’s nothing revolutionary though. In fact it’s the way most people shopped, pre c. 1920s when an over-the-counter service and simple paper wrapping was the norm. In much of Asia, groceries are still bought at open-air markets with sacks of grain and piles of spices, sellers deftly wrapping your goods in a newspaper cone.

An old fashioned shop counter, black and white image
When buying package-free was the norm (image: dailymail.co.uk)

So where have the Nordics been? While we’ve been busy making great strides in waste management, we’ve tended to overlook waste reduction on a consumer level. But not for long. This Summer Scandinavia’s first package free grocery store opened in Copenhagen, and Gram is set to be Sweden’s first in November.

So get your reusable containers ready, and look forward to fewer trips to the recycling bins.

Further reading:
Comprehensive list of package free stores