As far as sustainability goes, we’re super lucky to be living in Berlin. I’m reminded of this every time I speak to friends and family back home. Often marketed as trendy, time-consuming, and expensive, a lot of people assume you have to completely overhaul your lifestyle to be more sustainable…but that’s simply not true. Being more sustainable is about figuring out what you use the most, and then finding a way to get those same products in a way that doesn’t have such a negative impact on our planet.
There are some fantastic unpackaged stores to choose from in Berlin that not only enable us to support local businesses and encourage innovation but also give us the power to refuse — to send a clear message that we don’t want our products wrapped in plastic. And because we live in Berlin, we can achieve this without too much extra effort on our part, and without breaking the bank.
I’ve completely changed the way I shop, drastically reducing the amount of waste I create — but I’ve managed to keep my monthly budget the same. While it’s true that prices at bulk stores are often a bit higher because they meet very strict criteria (eg. fair trade, organic, regional, cradle-to-cradle, etc.), it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The key to being more sustainable without increasing your budget? Balance it out.
First, try to figure out where you can shop to SAVE money by going packaging-free; this will then open up a bit of extra budget for the more specialty/premium items that simply can’t be found in regular stores.
Next, determine if it makes sense to buy certain items that you use a lot in bulk (for me this is flour, rice, cinnamon, washing powder, and vegan cheese). This will not only save you trips to the store (time-saving, yay!), it will also save you money as well, as the price-per-kilo for bulk items is usually lower than individually-packaged portions.
I know what you’re thinking: Can you really be more sustainable if you shop in regular shops and supermarkets? Absolutely. You just need:
- basic knowledge of the difference between Mehrweg and Einweg (Reusables vs. Single-use),
- an understanding of which materials/packaging are a better choice in terms of recyclability to help you make decisions on-shelf* and
- some reusable fruit and veg bags (to avoid those dirty looks at the checkout when your potatoes start rolling all over the place.)
One of my favorite places to get fruit, veg, and fresh herbs without packaging is Oz Gida, in Schöneberg. Turkish supermarkets are great, and they are scattered all over Berlin. Once I get the majority of my fruit and veg shopping done, I usually head up the road to Bio Insel.
This independent organic store has a great selection of unpackaged veg and salad, as well as fresh tofu (from Soy Rebels), seitan in glass, peanut butter, and a good selection of wine in reusable bottles (Mehrweg).
This just happens to be my closest unverpackt store, and while convenience does of course come into play, it is not the only reason I choose to frequent this store.
In addition to basic pulses and grains (quinoa, popcorn, red lentils, gummy candy, etc.), they carry my absolute favorite brand of local shampoo bars from Sauberkunst, and they have some great specialty items that I haven’t seen elsewhere in Berlin — a fantastic Chai tea, and potato chips, for instance. Her selection is constantly changing and evolving to meet her customers’ needs, so I love going there to have an explore…plus she carries my favorite oat milk, as well as tofu and regional wines, in Mehrweg.
We cook a lot, so sometimes I have to visit different unverpackt stores for specific items. Location does have an impact, so while there are some great options in Prenzlauerberg (Der Sachen Wegen) and Kreuzberg (Original Unverpackt) it is simply too far for me to justify a trip. Plus, I have fallen in love with some of the not-so-know unpackaged stores in Berlin, as they offer a slightly different selection. Here are a few of my favorites:
This gem is located in Wilmersdorf. The lovely owners are passionate about what they do and have a great selection of basic items as well as some unique items that I haven’t found at other stores. They have a milk machine, so you can refill your milk bottles, as well as bulk Kombucha, maple syrup, and fresh oat milk. Their snack selection is fantastic, and they have a really solid array of cleaning and toiletry products.
Another recent addition to the scene, this shop is tiny, but don’t let that fool you. Their standard selection of basics is robust, but they also carry some items you can’t find elsewhere…and are upping their delivery game. They carry fresh tofu in glass from Teto, as well as vegan cheeses and tempeh from Tivonit. While they cannot carry a lot of different variations of the same product due to space limitations, they still manage to carry a little bit of everything — from cleaning products to toiletries, to spices.
When you’re craving something special…this is a great shop to check out. They have a nice little bulk selection with not-so-common ingredients such as mung daal and shelled pistachios…but the highlight for me has to be their cardamom coffee. This shop specializes in Arabic cuisine, so you can also find some great pickles and jams that aren’t available elsewhere. Plus, the owners are really friendly and helpful.
If you are not quite ready to tackle the kitchen and want to start with your bathroom…then I suggest swinging by Erica, in Neukölln. She has a ton of handmade soaps and shampoo bars to choose from and can give you advice on what products would work best for your skin/hair type…as well as a great selection of plastic-free alternatives for the bathroom.
Living in Berlin makes being more sustainable pretty easy. By changing your approach to consumption and trying to balance out your purchases — opting for unpackaged produce at your regular store and paying more attention to packaging materials, and then figuring out how to supplement/replace certain items with a visit to an unverpackt (unpackaged/bulk) shop, or buying it in bulk and storing it at home—you not only make a positive impact, you send a clear signal to manufacturers that you expect more. Remember, if we won’t buy it, then they’ll stop making it…
Meg Koch is on a mission to help consumers change their consumption habits to be more sustainable. After spending the past 15+ years in the advertising and technology industries helping companies convince people to buy things they didn’t need, she decided to quit her job and create a positive social impact by empowering others to harness their purchasing power for good. She offers both 1:1 in-home consultations, as well as online courses. Her next 6-week course begins on April 12th.
*Download my free recycling guide in English, here