Sometimes it seems the world is going around in circles trying to catch its own tail. Today I read that Texas could be home to In.gredients, a grocery store that aims to eliminate the packaging that food comes in. The store will instead offer most of its produce in bulk bins. Customers can also bring their own boxes, bottles or borrow compostable ones from the store.
Now, I've never really understood the obsession that the world has with packaging. I can hardly wrap my mind around those little plastic baggies used to segregate fruit and vegetable purchases. You see, I have always grown up around the concept of 'bulk bins' - fresh produce and (sometimes even grain) is rarely ever packaged in India. You have the delightful pleasure of moseying around the produce tossing in random bunches of beans, carrots or whatever else you fancy. No plastic bags in sight until you are at the check-out and all your shopping is sorted, weighed and dunked in the one bag. So when you get home you have this whole bunch of sorting out to do but really, it only takes ten minutes (about the amount of time it takes to roll off those plastic baggies, rub the static out of them and put your stuff in.)
I am utterly delighted with the concept of bulk bins being introduced in America. 40% landfill waste in the US is packaging that is used a single time. The grocery store In.gredients is also aiming for its products to be local and organic or all-natural. Of course with the reduction in packaging, food prices are actually kept low because you are paying for only the food and not all the nasty packaging that comes with it. This concept is also viable for selling grain. In.gredients also plans to sell bulk beer and cleaning products.
On the flip side, over the last few years in India, super-markets that are aiming to set themselves apart by modeling themselves along the lines of American mega-stores have embraced packaging with a crazy abandon. When I saw my first packet of veg nestled in a delicate sheath of plastic about a year back I was both shocked and horrified. Now more and more supermarkets have started to embrace the trend of encasing fresh produce in plastic because it is the 'trendy,' 'upmarket' and 'convenient.'
On a rather ironic side note, several corporations and municipalities in India are bringing in plastic bans vigorously. Unfortunately the plastic police seem determined to target the poor little mom and pop shops rather than the big guys, who are doubly compensating and going mental with their plastic. More on this in another post.
Of course there are critiques of the bulk bin concept. The most common one is that it is a death-trap for allergy sufferers. I'm not disputing that food allergies are on the rise and there is a serious cause for concern, but there seems to be a disproportionate rise in the Western world in comparison. There is of course a genetic link to allergies and some communities are more susceptible to certain kinds of allergens. I am inclined to believe that the greater reason for the rise in allergies lies with the over-processing of food. Maybe bulk bins can act as way to desensitize some sufferers?
Much like the question to whether the madness in the world will even out, only time can tell. In the meantime, let us be done with all the plastic.
Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net