BIG is an organization dedicated to helping consumers, food makers and grocers learn about the many environmental and economic benefits of bulk foods.

by Admin on Aug 10, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Filed in News

Catherine Conway,
London, England UK -- 8/10/2011

Unpackaged is an organic refill grocery in London, UK. Since we opened in 2007, our aim has been to sell fantastic products and help our customers shop more sustainably by offering most of our products in refills. We encourage our customers to bring their own packaging to refill and make it easy for them to do so.

Rather than have a separate refill section within a conventional grocery store, we take refill as our central concept and are working towards being able to offer every product we sell as a refill.
Our policy is to sell high quality, organic & environmentally sustainable products, sourced seasonally & direct from local producers. Working directly with local producers means we can extend our philosophy of packaging reuse both up and down the supply chain.
I see our refill concept holistically – it is about how we deliver food from producer to customer, from farm to fork, taking into account all the social, economic & environmental impacts in the journey. I truly believe that Unpackaged is a sustainable, competitive answer to some of the key modern challenges our food supply chain faces.
So, in a nutshell, this is why we do what we do:

1. C0²e reduction from less packaging - There is an average 48% reduction in emissions each time a product is refilled from Unpackaged  compared to the same product bought in traditional packaging. This figure will only increase as we grow and improve our systems.

2. The reduction of material waste from landfill & incineration – Taking an average shopping basket of 10 products refilled across the year, 118 pieces of packaging are saved from landfill . This represents a significant environmental saving, as well as a cost saving to local government who are under strict reduction targets to reduce landfill waste due to increasing European legislation. Failure to meet these targets will result in financial penalties passed on to householders through increased local taxes.

3. Less food waste as customers can buy just the amount they want - 8.3 million tonnes of food is thrown away by households in the UK every year, which equates to roughly 1/3 of the food that consumers buy – a criminal waste. It is also the equivalent of 20 million tonnes of C0² emissions every year , we show that small changes to consumers’ buying habits can have big environmental impacts.

4. Positive behaviour change - We help our customers consume more sustainably. 60% of customers said that since they started shopping with Unpackaged they do not buy over-packaged products in other shops . We know that the simple act of thinking about bringing containers down to refill helps customers change their behaviour in a positive way, and positive associations are more likely to lead to lasting change because consumers can see the benefits in their own lives.

5. Economic benefits across the supply chain:
    Producers: Producers gain better margins on bulk products
    Customers: Save money by not spending on packaging (the annual extra packaging cost for the average UK family has been estimated at £470 ; by buying only what they need rather wasting
    food, a family can save an additional £480 )
    The Community: Research carried out into the sustainability of  SME’s (small and medium sized enterprises) and the health of local communities shows that the act of reusing and refilling
    products made locally keeps money in the local economy . Local multiplier effects show that £1 spent with a local supplier is worth £1.76 to the local economy whereas the community only
    benefits from 36p if it is spent with a chain store . The more local shops we can encourage, the better for each community - socially, economically & environmentally.

However, there is always a danger when people, or organisations, think theirs is the only way – we fully recognise the need for a diverse range of solutions to the complex problem of food related climate change. We’re part of the solution and just trying to be the best at what we do.

Unpackaged will celebrate its fourth birthday in November 2011, testament to our fantastic and committed customers who share our vision for a more sustainable world, and a nice chat over the counter as they shop!

We’re brimming with ideas of how to replicate our model to make it available to many more communities and increase our social impact.

Our vision is a world with less wasteful packaging and we’re achieving it one customer at a time!

[1] Unpackaged Giraffe Innovation Greenhouse Gas Assessment 2008
[2] Internal estimation
[4] Unpackaged 1st anniversary customer survey
[5] Women’s Institute Packaging Campaign
[6] Ibid WRAP
[7] Hawken, Paul. The Ecology of Commerce p144 - 145

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