Dumpster diving for those who don't like diving into dumpsters
Berlin environment blog
A new store in Berlin is selling food that would otherwise be thrown away. But that's just the start. The motley crew of green entrepreneurs has much bigger plans and you might benefit from them, too.
Berlin is big on innovative retail concepts, especially when they have a green and sustainable angle. In 2011, Europe's first vegan supermarket chain opened its first store here (it now has three in Berlin). In 2014, the city got its first packaging-free supermarket.
Last week, three friendly-looking guys opened a new store with a green twist in the city. It's called SirPlus and as the name suggests, it sells leftover food or more specifically food that would otherwise be thrown away. Essentially the store turns dumpster diving into a business.
People have long picked through rubbish for food and other valuables out of necessity. But in recent years, dumpster diving - as the practise of collecting food from supermarket skips has become known - has been taken up by those who object to a supply system based on the large-scale waste of perfectly edible food.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that every year, 1.3 billion tons of food goes to waste worldwide.
One of those protesting dumpster divers was Raphael Fellmer. He went so far as to live without money for five years, which eventually earned him a spot on many German talk shows and a book deal. But he has since had a change of heart when it comes to cash and is now one of the co-founders of SirPlus. "You can do many positive things with money," he recently said in an interview.
So what's the business model?
Put simply, SirPlus has agreements with major food producers and retailers to take edible food they would otherwise dump and sell it for a big discount at their small store in Berlin's Charlottenburg district.
It's a win-win situation. The companies get good PR for avoiding food waste and save on garbage disposal, while consumers get bread, soy milk, baby food or juice at a massive discount of up to 70 percent. SirPlus does plan to make a profit with the enterprise, although they are quick to point out that they will give 20 percent of that to charity.
A cute store with big plans
For now, SirPlus is a cute little store in a pedestrian zone in the western part of Berlin, but the founders have much bigger plans.
Once the new business is fully up and running, they want to launch an online shop and offer home delivery, not just in Berlin but throughout Germany. Talk about taking dumpster diving mainstream!
"Original Unverpackt" is a small supermarket that looks more like a kiosk, and yet it offers 500 different products - from nuts to noodles - all package-free. Customers can fill as much of each product as they want into small linen bags, Tupperware they bring from home, or glass jars from Milena’s shop. As long as it's reusable.
At Milena's shop, nothing is pre-packaged, so customers can decide how much of each product they want to buy. Nuts, for example, are billed according to weight, so to double-check how much your pecans or walnuts are, you can throw them onto this retro-looking scale. Plus, shuffling nuts into bags brought from home is actually way more fun than just tossing a pre-packaged bag of nuts into a cart.
Bring your own packaging
Apart from nuts, you can also buy package-free noodles, like lasagna or spaghetti. But when customers get to the spaghetti section, many are a bit helpless. "They wonder: where could we possibly put that," Milena says. Spaghetti won't fit in most Tupperware containers. Milena has a simple but ingenious answer: "Old Pringles tubes," she says and smiles.
Supporting local organic agriculture
Milena's concept isn't just reducing plastic waste, but also offering regional and organic produce. So all of these fruits and veggies come from local farmers. "That way, we have a shorter supply chain," says Milena, "which means we're producing less carbon dioxide when getting the products into our shop."
Organic apples - and condoms
Milena's shop doesn't just offer package-free food, like these yummy-looking fruits, but also toiletries - from organic detergents to natural cosmetics. There's even a section with sustainable, fair-trade, vegan condoms.
Milena's shop is located in Berlin's vibrant, trendy Kreuzberg district and has a base of loyal customers who love to hang out after shopping. Even the chairs outside of Milena's shop are made out of recycled cardboard.