Buying food at the supermarket usually means ending up with a shopping basket half full of plastic. Plastic cartons, plastic bags, plastic bottles, even individually wrapped fruits and vegetables. And there are plenty of innovations around that are tackling the problem - from coffee cup sharing systems to edible food packaging made from milk proteins.
One major initiative that's currently underway is the New Plastics Economy, "an ambitious, three-year initiative to build momentum towards a plastics system that works" that is backed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and a number of different multinationals and funding organisations. They want to rethink and redesign the future of plastics - starting with the issue of packaging - by applying the principles of the circular economy.
Among the winners of their recent "Circular Design Challenge" was MIWA (which stands for Minimum Waste), a waste-free shopping solution conceived in the Czech Republic.
How Does MIWA Work?
The way it works is simple, and covers every step on the supply chain.
1) Food producers producers package their products in reusable containers and deliver them to stores. This cuts down on plastic and paper packaging, and ideally, means that the products can be shipped more cheaply.
2) The containers are placed into specially designed stands in the store, with labels showing product information. Customers can use an app and their phones to scan each product that they want, and order a precise amount of each.
3) The order is then packed into ecologically-friendly and reusable containers for the customers to take away, or just put into their own containers. Payment is done through the app and the products can be picked up when they leave, or alternatively they can have their shopping delivered.
It's comfortable, convenient and ecological: with reusable packaging at every step and helping consumers cut back on food waste by allowing them to order exactly how much they need. The people behind MIWA call the concept "precycling", preventing the generation of unnecessary waste in the first place, rather than dealing with it after it's been made.
But several kinds of packaging-free supermarkets already exist, so what's new about MIWA? According to the team behind it, it's the versatility of their technology, and the ease with which it could be introduced pretty much anywhere, from small shops to large supermarkets.
It's a smart twist on the packaging-free supermarket model and with the added convenience of the smartphone app and the pick-up/delivery options, maybe it could actually be enough to really shake up our existing shopping habits.