Future of Supermarkets: Can we lose the packages?
Sometimes without thinking too much, we assume that there is only one way of doing things. Indeed, the way we are used to consume from supermarkets, it is the most ordinary thing to just purchase items, each separately wrapped into plastic in some form. It feels like that is the only way to bring food home. Some might argue that it is time to change the way we perceive things! Packaging free shops seem to have completely new vision of supermarkets, and they are gaining momentum all over Europe. It is speculated that the EU market for bulk goods will already reach at least 1.2 billion Euros and at best 3.5 billion Euros by the end of 2030. Is this the new wave that will change the way we shop?
The over consumption of plastic wrapped goods is attributed to one of the biggest polluters of the environment. Plastics that end up in the ocean after a while are attributed to be one of the greatest threats to the marine life and overall the Eco-system. Earths demand is around 51 million tons of plastic. In the supply chain of a supermarket at every stage there is excessive use of plastic which is often overlooked and only the consumer purchased plastics are taken into account. This impact paved the way for a creative solution that is the package free supermarkets.
The packaging free supermarkets utilizes a strategy in which the primary packages are eliminated for the end consumers and the supermarkets try to decrease their secondary and tertiary packaging as well meaning that they try to incentive supermarkets to order in bulk from their own suppliers. The idea is to replace individual packaging with dispensers which allow consumers to put products onto their own sustainable and reusable containers. The products are sold according to their weight and volume.
The projections show that the estimated recovered plastic from going into circulation in 2023 will be around 5500 tons in the EU thanks to the package free shops. The movement is in its infancy yet still is able to make significant impact.
Of course, the concept is far from being perfect. One of the problems is that 74 percent of the packaging free shops are located in the city centers and rural and village areas do not have access to them as easily. Also, carrying reusable containers for the products seem to pose a practicality problem. Convenience of using single plastic is still superior and many people do not plan ahead to always be prepared to shop in a package free supermarket. Otherwise, purchasing reusable containers every time a person goes to a package free supermarket defeats the purpose of limiting over consumption.
One other potential problem is the risk of contamination. Plastic packages provide protection from outside world and when stores transfer their products from packages in bulk to dispensers there is a significant potential for food to get contaminated. There is a need for established safe transferring process which ensures the safety of the food. Also, consumers might be hesitant to purchase products which they have no idea of how those products were stored. Bringing in a traceability system which ensures consumers of the status of the product is another necessary step that has to be taken by the supermarkets before the package free stores are practical and useful. Initially developing these steps are all costs for supermarkets which they might not want to take on. However, the pioneers which actualizes developing these steps are looking at revolutionizing the industry, high profit margins and of course enormous positive environmental impact.
Realistically at this point, eliminating secondary and tertiary packages is already a feasible option for the supermarkets that can have significant impact. For the end consumers, going package free and local is still a great option to have when having an extensive visit to supermarkets for the weekly needs. The package free supermarket movement offers great promise and may redefine how we perceive the way we shop. Are you ready for the future of shopping?