For residents here in Boulder, recycling is second nature. It’s a commonly known fact that our wasted materials have a detrimental effect on the environment. Plastic in particular is a major contributor to the levels of pollution in our oceans and land alike. When nearly every piece of plastic that’s ever been made still exists in some shape or form, and so much of what we consume comes in packaging that is thrown out immediately, we’re acutely aware of this problem. We do our best to recycle and repurpose these materials, yet a question remains – what if a purpose for that waste was never created? That’s the thinking behind the Anti-Packaging Movement, which eschews disposable packaging entirely.

There have been lots of idealized concepts of water and food packaged in edible containers cropping up lately. This ingenuity supports the notion of precycling, but brings about the inevitable issue of hygiene. Not many folks are willing to pop something in their mouth that has been exposed to who-knows-what on the journey from manufacturer to store. Before modern packaging was integrated into our society, the exchange of goods was much more casual. Shoppers would hand select supplies straight from merchants, and transport them home in reusable containers. How can we bring bridge the disconnect between those the old-world market traditions and the higher standards of sanitization in this day and age?

Zero-waste markets are a start. Though a great deal of grocery stores feature bulk dried foods and produce sections, they typically require the use of plastic bags as storage to transport home. A recent New York Times article highlighted the German store Original Unverpackt, which leads the way in this movement by offering bulk foods in solely recyclable material containers like glass and metal. This store is curated beautifully to reduce not only unnecessary wasteful materials, but also the chaos of overwhelming product choices. This promotes a minimalist and environmentally conscious lifestyle, with customers bringing their own bags and jars to take groceries home.

While the execution of this movement has generally been thought of as a European concept, its worldwide presence is undeniable. The Boulder Farmer’s Market has been zero-waste since 2005, and for a market that boasts 15,000 customers each operating day, that’s an impressive feat. Looking to the future, we’ll see this type of practice being integrated into conventional groceries. This year, we’ll welcome Zero Market to Denver. This establishment is the first of its kind in the region, and will feature local, organic and toxin-free goods to support a sustainable lifestyle. Like Original Unverpackt, patrons of this store will load goods into reusable containers.

Edible Container Packaging Design

Zero Market‘s new space in Denver will be completely waste-free.

How will this affect the world of packaging design? While it’s unlikely that ice cream and water will be sold in exclusively edible containers any time soon, there is room for serious innovation in this space. Paper packaging with embedded seeds that can be planted in soil to create new life are a great option for upcycling. Organic materials like potatoes and corn are increasingly being used in lieu of plastic for disposable cutlery and to-go containers. Plastic could effectively be phased out if this way of thinking gains serious traction in the coming years. We are looking forward to seeing how companies will adapt to the waste-free movement.