Exploring Waste-Free Supermarkets

In my last six months of living in Germany, I have found in general that it is miles ahead of the UK for looking after the environment. From a cash-incentivised plastic bottle recycling scheme (which helps with both littering and providing a small bit of financial help for the homeless that collect bottles) to it’s energy-efficient transport and managing to be powered by nearly 100% renewable energy one day last year. In all honesty, it puts the uk, which frequently misses sustainability targets, to shame. However, the one thing that Germany seems to love, is packaging. There’s salads in boxes, and finding loose vegetables can be a genuine challenge. In response, there is a wave of independent waste-free supermarkets popping up across the country. When I heard that one had opened up in Bremen, I had to check it out.


SelFair is located in the hip Hamburg Strasse, where student bars, ethnic cafes and fair-trade shops all share space. In it, you’ll find fresh produce, rows of dispensers filled with dried goods, tins of cooked whole foods and even an organic wine shelf. You can also pick up natural toiletries and essentials. Del Fare boasts a deli counter where you can buy a range of olives, antipasti and pots of frankly gorgeous hummus, alongside baked goods. The one caveat is that German law won’t allow customers to use their own containers from deli items, so plastic containers do have to be used. However, SelFair has made the effort to source containers made of a plastic designed to break down more quickly, rather than just using any old tub, so I do appreciate that!

So how does a waste free supermarket work? You have three options: use the paper bags provided, buy one of the jars in store, or bring your own container. Containers are pre-weighed so that this can be later deducted from the weight of your products. Whilst in Berlin, I noticed that Veganz, a vegan supermarket, offered the option to buy your dried goods by weight in the same way, although it wasn’t totally waste free like Sel Fare. 

Whilst it would of course be fantastic for more supermarkets and independent shops to go completely waste free, I would also like to see all supermarkets make a move towards less waste. In the UK, I can only really think of Wholefoods and the odd independent or local cooperative that offer bulk bins, and even then these tend to require plastic bags rather than pre-weighing reusable containers. 

If you happen to find yourself in Lower Saxony, be sure to head over to Bremen and pop into SelFair to see it for yourself. If you know of any other similar shops and supermarkets, comment down below as I’d love to find more and I’m sure that others will too!