Pieter Pot is a supermarket startup in the Netherlands with a ‘package free’ concept, requiring no additional effort from the consumer. You can get your groceries delivered to your doorstep in reusable glass pots.
Going to the supermarket with your own containers or bags is no longer a new idea and glass makes a good reusable container as it is inert, hence safe for storing food. It’s also easy to clean and 100 per cent recyclable. The obvious drawback is that it’s heavy and not exactly convenient to lug around.
This inconvenience is why most package-free stores fail. Picking the easy option, most of us tend to go for one-time-use packaging and then fill our waste bins with it. Even if we diligently separated our waste and recyclables as much as possible, recycling still takes energy and incurs costs.
“Even if packaging gets recycled, it still costs a lot of energy. You can compare it to a bottle or a can of beer: bottles are the more sustainable option after they have been reused around 10 times,” says Jouri Schoemaker, co-founder of Pieter Pot.
The Pots Go Round and Round
Pieter Pot’s novel concept is a ‘circular’ solution using reusable glass containers. This means that you would leave a deposit for the burlap bags and glass pots to be filled with the products you order online and delivered to your house. This deposit is returned to your user account when the pots are returned. The Dutch Post handles delivery and return of the bags and pots. Pieter Pot handles the sorting, cleaning and storage of the pots. These glass jars can be re-used up to 40 times and recycled at the end of their lifespan.
Since the supermarket was launched in May 2020 by Schoemaker and Martijn Bijmolt, they have acquired 9,000 customers and there are 15,000 more on the waiting list. The company had initially raised €300,000 with an addition of €100,000 in government subsidies. In November 2020, they received a further €2.7 million from three sustainability-focused investment funds — Shift Invest, Future Food Fund and Innovation Quarter — which will enable them to scale up the business.
As a next step, they are also looking to develop lighter and ‘smarter’ reusable pots. Lighter containers will further reduce the carbon footprint, and containers that register the food it contains and its use-by date can help prevent waste.
Sustainability is the driving force for the company. Most supermarkets have an average of 30,000 items in their inventory. Pieter Pot carries only about 250 non-perishable products with a longer shelf life. By limiting the choices per category, they can focus on quality and buy in bulk. Products include pasta, cereals, herbs, oil, sauces, coffee, tea, cookies as well as some personal care items. They explain that buying the products in bulk from the supplier shortens the supply chain and translates to a better price for the end consumer.
Does The Environment Win?
Recycling does have a cost. The benefits largely depend on the efficiency and management of each city’s recycling program. If not correctly sorted, what we put in the recycle bin may not be recyclable due to contamination, such as food residue in pizza-boxes or dirty labels on plastic.
Additional resources are also required to collect and correctly sort recyclable materials. Costs of recycling may outweigh traditional disposal methods, but the options are limited as we are running out of space to dispose of our garbage. Even if we agree that whatever we succeed in recycling saves on new landfills and use of new resources, our primary effort should be focused on reducing the amount of waste we produce.
This is the aim of Pieter Pots and other stores advocating for the package-free concept. Their success will depend on whether people are receptive to the solution and if it is practical in their daily lives.
On their website, you can find information on the lifecycle of alternative packagings like cardboard or recyclable plastic, and how much CO2 it takes compared to using glass. As an example, the company says by using re-usable glass containers, it saves 194 per cent CO2 compared to plastic ketchup bottles.
Does the environmental benefit of package-free groceries outweigh delivery to more remote areas?
Schoemaker’s answer is a definitive yes: “If you live in a remote place and have your groceries delivered in a non-electric van, it produces less CO2 emissions than if you were to buy them yourself in the local supermarket. This even applies if the groceries were packaged in recycled material.
In addition, many people in rural areas, or large families, usually do their shopping by car. A delivery service is much more efficient because several packages go into a van,” he adds.
Ultimately each case will differ depending on the distance, the route taken, and the vehicle used to make deliveries. Even so, Pieter Pot’s circular delivery solution makes environmental sense in cities and that is a good starting point.
Their vision is to make package-free a convenient and standard practice.