So I started my day with a shower, using shower gel, shampoo and conditioner (that’s 3). Then I brushed my teeth (+1) and moisturized (+1). Next, I went on to make breakfast for my girls – chocolate chip pancakes with butter, syrup, whipped cream and milk to drink (+5). I had sausage and eggs (+2). In case you lost count, that’s 12 packages I personally touched before 10:00AM.
You might have heard that there is a new concept grocery slated to open in Austin, TX sometime this fall. It’s called In.gredients. Well, actually, it is an old concept being reborn – a store where everything is sold in bulk, packaging-free. Shoppers are expected to bring their own reusable containers and with that, they have the freedom to buy as much or as little of an item as they want. I can certainly appreciate the premise of helping people live a zero-waste lifestyle. And buying in bulk can mean financial savings. Still, I’m just not ready to jump on board.
Since the store has yet to open, humor me as I theorize on how some aspects of the concept might be handled, and why much of this does not make sense to me. First, there will certainly be packaging involved in transporting the goods to the store. And then, rather than have the benefit of keeping the items clean, fresh and protected, that packaging will be removed and the items displayed in bulk. I’m not sure how the items will be displayed, but let’s just say there is a reason I never eat at buffet-style restaurants. Assuming they take every care and caution to protect the items from what is in the air and on people’s hands, how are the items kept fresh? I’m imagining less packaging waste, but more food waste. And how will one know the items are fresh? How will required labeling be handled – expiration dates, nutrition facts, allergens? Having a daughter with a peanut allergy, I know that she and I must read every label at the store, in our home, and at friend’s homes. I also worry about cross-contamination. We all love ice cream but she cannot partake in any from any ice cream shop that offers peanuts as a topping. You’ve seen the topping bar – items get tossed about, scoops are used indiscriminately.
On to the business side of things from the brand/product side. Will everything be sold as a generic commodity? I can’t imagine my favorite brands giving up their packaging billboards. Packaging lives in our homes and the messaging serves the brand from the shelf at the store and the shelves in our pantries. It can whet our appetite for a certain snack. It can tout the benefits of a particular product. It helps us find our favorites.
Now, I imagine getting the items home, all in my own reusable containers. I’ll certainly miss some of the design features that make handling and pouring some items easier. In my pantry and refrigerator, I have a hard enough time finding what I want even with all the marketing and branding on the packaging. I can’t imagine being faced with a sea of blank, boring containers. Think I have time to label all of that with the item and the date? Yeah, right.
I’m all for recycling, reusing, conserving water, using compact fluorescent light bulbs, driving alternative fuel vehicles – but don’t ask me to live without packaging. By the end of the day, I’ve probably interacted with 100+ packages, and for me, each one serves a purpose.