Packaging Free


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?):

  1. Refuse: Can you do without this product/waste? 
  2. Reduce: Do I really need these things? 
  3. Reuse: Can I use this again? 
  4. Recycle: Can I use this again in a different way?  
  5. 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) 

The approach to the subject of packaging has certainly changed significantly in recent years. The EU in particular is driving forward environmentally friendly packaging, non-packaging and above all the avoidance of plastic and has been a trendsetter in this regard. As early as 1994, the following was published in a European Parliament and Council Directive (European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste. ):

The differing national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste should be harmonized in order to prevent any impact on the environment or to reduce such impact. Whereas the best means of preventing the creation of packaging waste is to reduce the overall volume of packaging. 

In 2003, the European Commission published a strategy paper for plastics in a circular economy. It describes the vision for Europe's new plastics economy. In order to realize this vision, all players in the plastic value chain, from plastic producers and designers, through brands and retailers, to recyclers are asked to make a contribution. So far, there has been little incentive for the packaging industry to take recycling or reuse requirements into account when designing their products. Most of the packaging is - despite the described counter-movement of no waste - made of plastic and above all meets the functional and/or aesthetic requirements of the customers. The variety of packaging alone (colours, types of plastic, hardness, etc.) makes recycling options extremely difficult (European Commission. A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, 2018). By improving packaging designs, for example by harmonizing the variants, the effort and costs of recycling packaging in the EU could be halved.9 Therefore, the EU has set a target that by 2030 all plastic packaging placed on the EU market can be reused or easily recycled. In addition, it examines how producer responsibility can be maximized and which economic incentives support particularly sustainable design decisions.8 Concrete measures have already been implemented on the basis of the EU action plans. Since July 2021, products made of single-use plastic (cotton swabs, plastic cutlery, plates, drinking straws, stirrers and balloon sticks) as well as certain food packaging made of polystyrene have been banned. Retailers are obliged to use reusable alternatives made of glass or metal. By 2029, bottles must be made of recycled material and at least 90 percent must be collected. Across the EU, a reduction of at least 500 million pieces of single-use plastic products per year is assumed (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt. Aus für Einwegplastikprodukte: EU-weite Regeln seit 3. Juli 2021 in Kraft, 2021).

Apart from political measures, trends in technologies, distribution channels, markets and above all society influence packaging or non-packaging. Selected trends affecting packaging (LEAD Innovation Management GmbH. Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien. 33 Trends für die Verpackungs-Branche, 2018):

  1. Branding - packaging company as a brand: The development and maintenance of the brand are becoming even more important components of the corporate strategy. The challenge is to move the branding to other media than the packaging (e.g. social media) and to present the brand as ecologically sustainable and therefore "better". 
  2. Change management: Due to current and future continuous change (political, social, ecological), companies in the packaging industry are under pressure to adapt to changing market conditions. 
  3. Demographic change: More older people with more purchasing power are gaining influence on demand. The values or beliefs (e.g. protection of the environment) have a greater influence on the purchase decision. 
  4. Multisensory: The brand message becomes even more visible, touchable, smellable and audible for the consumer. Unmistakable design, print images with effect pigments or soft-touch applications play a major role. The more important the multi-dimensional shopping experience becomes, the more disruptive the packaging (especially plastic) becomes. 
  5. Convenience and usability: Consumers are constantly asking manufacturers to further develop their packaging products. This results in constant pressure to innovate for providers. Organic packaging in particular is increasingly in demand. 
  6. Sustainability: Sustainability is becoming a megatrend. Ecological sustainability offers the opportunity to stand out from the competition. More and more consumers see recyclable packaging as an important component in the packaging chain. 
  7. Design - clear communication: Customers don't want to be overloaded. They expect concise information on attractive packaging. 
  8. Natural Materials: Consumers reject an industrial system that is increasingly toxic and unhealthy. They increasingly expect the solution to come from natural packaging materials. In addition to sustainability, there is a strong focus on one's own health and prolongation of life. 
  9. Scarcity of resources: The scarcity of resources is leading to intensified competition and increased demands on the packaging industry. 

The parallel development of fast fashion to fast food presents both industries with similar challenges. Fast fashion and fast food cause serious damage on an economic, ecological and social level. In the case of fast food, there is direct damage to health. In the case of fast fashion, there is also indirect health damage if, for example, plastic or microplastic has found its way from the packaging into our water. Fast fashion and fast food also have in common that they are frequently consumed by their target group (consumption of fashion has doubled in the last 20 years) and the products or food inevitably cause a lot of packaging waste (Umweltmission. Was ist Fast Fashion? Definition, Marken und Auswirkungen. ). In the fashion industry, things are made more difficult by the fact that more and more people are buying online and returning it - this development was massively encouraged by Corona. According to the Berlin fashion mail order company Zalando, the return rate is around 50 percent. These returns cause major environmental damage due to the transport routes and reprocessing as well as new packaging (Die Welt. Wirtschaft. Das beliebteste Produkt der Deutschen ist die Retoure, 2018).

Sustainable development in the sense of non-packaging or the zero waste movement therefore requires awareness raising and a group of buyers who consciously prefer sustainable packaging or non-packaging and are willing to pay more money for it. 

Example of Package Free using zero or minimal packaging for their products and eliminating single-use plastic. Both fashion and food are represented in the range. Package Free also ships 100 percent plastic free.  


33 more examples of Zero Waste Shops in the US, Canada, UK and Australia:  

Utopia – Netzwerk für Nachhaltigkeit  

Die Zeit. Verpackungsfrei einkaufen. (2014)  

European Parliament. Plastic waste and recycling in the EU: facts and figures. (2021)  

Wiener Umwelt Anwaltschaft. Lebensmittelabfälle – ein großer Schaden für Menschen und Umwelt. (2019),hinter%20den%20USA%20und%20China  

Zero Waste Austria. Was ist Zero Waste?  

co2online. Welche Verpackung ist umweltfreundlicher? Der große Verpackungsvergleich. (2019)  

European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste.  

European Commission. A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. (2018)  

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing action. (2017)   

Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt. Aus für Einwegplastikprodukte: EU-weite Regeln seit 3. Juli 2021 in Kraft. (2021),auf%20den%20Markt%20kommen%20d%C3%BCrfen 

LEAD Innovation Management GmbH. Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien. 33 Trends für die Verpackungs-Branche. (2018)  

Umweltmission. Was ist Fast Fashion? Definition, Marken und Auswirkungen.  

Die Welt. Wirtschaft. Das beliebteste Produkt der Deutschen ist die Retoure. (2018)