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Interview with Tara Welschlinger, Managing Director FOIFI Zero Waste Ladencafé

Linda Herzog spoke with Tara Welschlinger.

Tara Welschlinger runs the first unpacked shop in Zurich (source: T. Welschlinger).

Ms. Welschinger, how well can you shop unpackaged in Zurich?

If you want to shop unpackaged in a city like Zurich, then you have to look far and invest a lot of time. I used to have a management position and worked a lot. In order to be able to shop unpackaged, I spent whole Saturdays at weekly markets. The very small range of unpackaged products in the retail trade of the city of Zurich has led me to open a shop where this philosophy is lived.

How do you implement the Zero Waste Lifestyle?

Personally, I try to avoid recyclable materials as well. You live "zero waste" if you recycle certain packaging materials such as PET or Tetrapak and make an effort to prevent residual waste. However, I try to go one step further and keep the cycle alive, i.e. to work with reusable systems.

We Swiss are world champions in recycling. However, I think that a system with reusable containers, as it is often still used in Germany, would be more sustainable. In the shop, we therefore have reusable bottles with a deposit on them. And we motivate our customers to bring their own packaging. With our suppliers, we mainly work with large containers, partly made of plastic, but often made of paper. But here, too, we would like to switch to reusable containers in the future.

What are the hygiene challenges in an unpacked shop?

We have to work very hygienically in our shop. But I had no difficulty in getting a permit for this store concept and we were not given any special requirements in terms of hygiene. In the large distributor, I have often observed that customers touch the vegetables and press them around. In our store, this does not seem to happen. In addition, in our shop, products are scooped out of the containers with spoons, so they are not directly touched. Only with our organic products, and that is 90% of the assortment, the label "organic" can no longer be guaranteed according to our food inspector when the product has been removed from the packaging. Therefore, we are no longer allowed to label certain products as organic. 

Which customer segment do you address with your store concept?

We nicely address young to old, women as well as men, singles, couples and families - which is the consensus of all: waste reduction in everyday life, food in organic quality, of which one knows the origin, as well as the desire to shop decelerated in the neighborhood shop.

Through the combination as a shop café, we also partly pick up walk-in customers - whereby we first pick up customers who want to live an environmentally friendly everyday life by taking the path to come to us in order to be able to shop unpackaged and regional.

How do you think Zurich's retail landscape will change in the future?

I very much hope, and I believe that this is also a need of the people, that more trade will be carried out in the districts again and that they will be revived more.

But I also hope for more weekly markets or themed seasonal markets whose opening hours are better adapted to the rhythm of our city: markets that are not only open from six in the morning to twelve o'clock at noon, but may also take place in the evening. And it would be great if you could bring together the "big" with the small shops, i.e. both large retailers with neighbourhood shops, as well as established neighbourhood shops with those who bring in new concepts. I don't know if this would be of interest to the big retailers. But all these similar-looking "to go" and "everything-in-plastic-packed" shops, I feel as a resident and for the cityscape without added value.

How can the big retailers like Coop and Migros contribute to this trend towards unpackaged shopping? 

It would be quite desirable for large retailers to jump on this "bandwagon". They, too, could offer a large proportion of  products in container systems, which can then be filled. It would also be great if they would then support the neighborhood shops. By this I mean that neighbourhood shops that order legumes in large containers, for example, can then have them transported using the logistics of a large distributor. Then it would also be easier for neighborhood shops to keep up with the prices, which are currently just a bit higher than the others.

How do you see the future of this trend towards more ecology?

I believe that the part of society that wants to live an environmentally conscious everyday life, together with the generation of young people, will promote this trend. For the generation of my parents and grandparents, unpackaged shopping is nothing out of the ordinary, they already passed by the farmer with the milk kettle. Now it is important to take up and advance this cycle of repetitive trends. This allows you to combine and use old knowledge with new innovations and technologies. The beauty of the Zero Waste movement is that it makes you creative, encourages you to cook, bake, tinker, craft and don't pigeonhole anyone - whether everything-eater or vegan, whether with or without a car, whether you start with the waste reduction in the kitchen, bathroom or household, it doesn't really matter - you start where you feel comfortable and can integrate it into everyday life. The careful handling of the environment, resources and food as well as responsible and critical consumption are in the foreground and the zero waste attitude forms the intersection of everything.

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