Is it possible to be entirely package-free?
A handful of independent retailers believe so. London's Unpackaged, opened in 2006, features a wide selection of fresh and nonperishable products sold in bulk bins, cases and pump dispensers. Customers bring their own containers — anything from Tupperware to plastic bags will do — weigh them at the register, then fill them with the products they want. In the United States, stores like Real Naked Foods in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood are cropping up, giving rise to a movement consumers are calling “BYOC,” or bring your own container.
This fall, shoppers in Austin, Texas, can take their bags, bottles and boxes to in.gredients, a package-free store opening on the city's east side. Inspired by the reuse-everything spirit of their mother and grandmother, co-founder Christian Lane and his two brothers wanted to build a low-impact supermarket that specialized in local products, but without all the plastic, cardboard and Styrofoam they usually come in. Lane worked with suppliers to cut out excess packaging, and the few packages required for safety purposes will be recyclable.
“So many consumers today are in tune with the environmental implications of their buying habits,” he said. “We had a hunch people were ready for this.”
Customers might be hankering, but package-free stores face some regulatory hurdles that could make a widespread movement difficult. Some cities, like Chicago, frown upon consumers bringing their own containers into restaurants or grocery stores, citing contamination concerns. Food safety experts say the possibility of such contamination and ensuing litigation is small, but it's large enough for retailers to consider. Just to be sure, stores like Unpackaged encourage shoppers to wash out their containers and follow proper procedure for filling them in-store.