The focus of packaging-free shops and retailers - in addition to the goods - is on NOT packaging of their products and food. This focus goes back to the zero-waste movement and pursues the goal of reducing plastic in particular and thus massively relieving the burden on the environment (Utopia – Netzwerk für Nachhaltigkeit ). This trend is continuing more and more, especially in the food sector. All groceries are filled into containers by the customers themselves, which they usually bring with them and can use repeatedly. The obvious advantages are the elimination of packaging waste and the reduction of overproduction because only the amount actually required is filled (Die Zeit. Verpackungsfrei einkaufen,2014). There is enormous potential for these positive effects. The EU has published that plastic production in 2018 has already reached almost 360 tons per year. Almost 40 percent of this massive amount can be traced back to the packaging industry. So there is a theoretical savings potential of over 140 tons of plastic per year in the EU (European Parliament. Plastic waste and recycling in the EU: facts and figures, 2021). Globally, the waste of food that is produced but not eaten is approximately 3.3 gigatonnes. This damage corresponds approximately to the entire annual CO2 emissions of China or the USA. In addition, around 250 km3 of water is wasted every year worldwide for overproduction in the food sector, which corresponds to around five times Lake Garda (Wiener Umwelt Anwaltschaft. Lebensmittelabfälle – ein großer Schaden für Menschen und Umwelt, 2019).
The zero-waste movement, in which the idea of packaging-free trade began, summarizes a philosophy that promotes resource-saving behavior. The achievement of this goal is sought through a cycle of five questions (Zero Waste Austria. Was ist Zero Waste?):
- Refuse: Can you do without this product/waste?
- Reduce: Do I really need these things?
- Reuse: Can I use this again?
- Recycle: Can I use this again in a different way?
- Red: Can this be composted?
Of course, there are products - both in the food and in the fashion industry - that cannot be sold entirely without packaging. Products that are bought online and then sent or drinks are just two examples. It is true that non-packaging is the ultimate goal, but in the broader sense of this movement, eco-friendly packaging is also a partial success. In order to understand the philosophy of non-packaging, it is necessary to accept that packaging is not always avoidable and to know about the advantages and disadvantages of alternative environmentally friendly packaging. A brief evaluation of the two most common green packaging alternatives in the broader sense of non-packaging (co2online. Welche Verpackung ist umweltfreundlicher? Der große Verpackungsvergleich, 2019):
1. returnable glass bottle
Pros: can be refilled up to 50 times; produce half as much CO2 as single-use plastic bottles
Cons: heavier than plastic bottles and therefore more CO2 emissions due to transport (the more regional the product, the better the eco-balance in the glass bottle)
2. paper and cardboard
Pros: consists of renewable raw materials; on average, packaging consists of 68% recycled waste paper; light weight
Cons: emissions of around 676 kilograms of CO2 per tonne of paper/cardboard (comparatively low, but still)