Reducing all waste and packaging to an absolute minimum. Sounds like a challenge? Our intrepid host Michel Niknafs decides to brave it – and shares his experience. “Challenge Accepted,” the new video series by smart, kicks off with his efforts to reduce everyday waste. And the results … tip the scales. 

Michel Niknafs is a Berlin-based entrepreneur and club owner – a hectic and demanding life that keeps him on his toes. With little time between appointments, a quick coffee and sandwich combo can help recharge the batteries. It’s a convenient fix, but one with tangible repercussions: plenty of packaging waste. Even supermarket fruit and veg often come covered in unnecessary packaging. Europeans produce over 80 million tonnes of packaging waste every year. That’s a mountain the size of … a pretty large mountain.

So, can busy urbanites dial down their personal waste footprint? The host of our new smart video series, Challenge Accepted, decides to give it a try – in front of the camera. Join Michel to find out what it’s like to leave your own cushy comfort zone for a more sustainable lifestyle. Watch the first episode of Challenge Accepted to see how he did.

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Particularly the omnipresent takeout options, disposable packaging and mail order turn out to be tricky causes of waste, as Michel noticed during his challenge. The responsible European commission is already reacting to this issue with stricter guidelines, but how can we reduce packaging waste ourselves? These ten simple tricks will help you start.

Bring your own bottle

Especially in the summer, it’s important to stay hydrated. And to think about what we’re doing. So, ditch those plastic bottles when you’re out and about. After all, there are plenty of thirst-quenching, environmentally friendly alternatives for those wedded to their water bottle. Made from glass or recycled materials, these options are easy on the eyes, conscience, and palate since they don’t affect the taste of your favorite refreshments. Just add (tap) water, ice, lemon slices, and a squeeze of grapefruit to start your summer day in style.

Infuser bottles with water melons
Fruity flavors to go: infused water bottles.
Photo: iStock / happy_lark

Skip those deliveries

Pizza, burger, sushi or Chinese, for a change? After a long day at work – or when you’re slouched on the couch on Sunday night – getting dinner delivered can be very tempting. But let’s be honest: There’s absolutely no need for the sheer volumes of waste you’re left with after each ordered treat. It’s way more fun, most likely healthier, and definitely less wasteful to get busy in the kitchen yourself. And if you simply don’t have enough time, energy, or inclination to DIY your culinary delights, just take a quick stroll straight to the source and enjoy your meal at the actual outlet.

Vegetable patties served with fesh basil leaves
Get busy – cook your own meal rather than ordering out.
Photo: istock / nata_vkusidey

Clever packaging for longer shelf-life

After some kitchen wizardry, you’re usually left with a few ingredients. And since these are too good to throw out, you might reach for Saran wrap or aluminum foil to keep that cucumber, eggplant, or piece of fruit from spoiling. Well, you guessed it already: There’s a much better alternative. Recyclable or reusable kitchen aids not only help you avoid hard-to-recycle waste, but might even keep your products fresh for longer. Check out your nearest drug or grocery store for some great new options like compostable foil made from beeswax and cotton.

Fresh salad in a glass container
Leftovers stay fresh in handy sealable trays.
Photo: 6sept13

Farmers’ market vs. supermarket

A trip to your local farmers’ market is fun and perfect for your eco-karma. Enjoy the sheer wealth of fresh tomatoes, carrots, blueberries … without wading through the mountains of plastic packaging you’re likely to see at the supermarket. Another plus – beyond the selection of regional and seasonal offerings – is the option to try the produce straight away. Many sellers will treat you to the odd apple or apricot. When are you heading to your neighborhood farmers’ market?

Fresh vegetables in a wooden basket
The farmers’ market will supply you with unpackaged goodness.
Photo: iStock / valentinrussanov

Picnic deluxe

Planning a spontaneous picnic or barbecue in the park? Before you reach for the disposable plates, forks, knives, and cups – not to forget a generous fistful of straws – please think again. There’s absolutely no need for this waste-based side-effect of a fun day out. Instead, take your pick from glass, bamboo, or even edible straws and simply pack some regular, reusable glasses and cutlery. These will automatically make your outdoor dinner look classier – and there’s no waste to haul back after packing up. Pro tip: Drinks also tend to taste fresher from glass bottles!

Laid picnic table with glassware, flowers and fruits
Eat in style: Cutlery, plates, and glassware will upgrade your picknick.
Photo: iStock / Rawpixel

E-tickets and online documents trump printing

Already counting the days to your next gig, big game, or much-needed vacay? Just leave those paper tickets at home. Instead, simply store those precious admission proofs online or present them on your smartphone. Naturally, this also applies to emails – there is usually no need to print them out. The planet will thank you.

Ticket-app on a smartphone
The smartphone makes print-out tickets obsolete.
Photo: iStock / baona

Buy electronic devices offline, not online

So, you’ve bought a USB stick online. The moment it arrives by post, the packaging battle begins: Most products ordered on the web come wrapped in an astonishing volume of different packaging types. While this protects the manufacturer or sender (from claims of breakage), the recipient is left with an impressive heap of non-recyclable waste. So, why not cut out the invisible middleman and simple go directly to the store? Besides the lightened load, you can also ask for tailored advice.

Empty packaging waste
Packaging overkill: appliances and electric gadgets.
Photo: iStock / Sayan_Moongklang

You lose with single-use

Disposable razors and toothbrushes are immensely popular, but they tend to be made of 100% plastic – and usually come in non-recyclable packaging. Why not opt for bamboo toothbrushes or stainless-steel razors instead? They are just as effective and hygienic.

Bamboo toothbrushes and bath towels
Have you ever tried a bamboo toothbrush?
Photo: iStock / Accessony

No-waste caffeine fix

Already late-ish and no time for breakfast? Just grab a quick coffee on the way to work … and that’s the first strike on your day’s packaging waste tally – not a great way to start the day. Take-away coffee is a glaring problem with plenty of convenient solutions. The most obvious one: Remember to bring your own receptacle. Or opt for the handy returnable Recup system, (currently available across many German cities). Or simply have your first coffee in the office (ideally not from capsules or pads) … there are simply no more excuses for disposable cups, dear java junkies!

Takeaway coffee cup
Why not reuse your takeaway coffee cup?
Photo: iStock / Olga Niekrasova

Make your own shampoo and shaving foam

Shower gel, shampoo, deodorant, shaving cream – bathrooms tend to teem with unnecessary packaging. Why not take it down a notch with homemade DIY recipes: Even shaving foam can be whipped up from natural products available at your nearest organic supermarket. If this sounds like too much hassle, the latter also stocks a wide range of eco-friendly, no-packaging soaps. So, no need to go feral or ditch great-smelling care products if you want to do your bit for the environment.

Sustainable bathroom accessories: soap, oil, sponge
Discover a world of packaging-free hygiene products.
Photo: iStock / tashka2000

Curious how Michel fared in avoiding packaging waste? Which hacks did he use to reduce a big chunk of trash in his life? Check out our first episode of Challenge Accepted and subscribe to the smart YouTube channel for further challenges with Michel.

These stores score with a wide range of entirely packaging free products:

London, England

Negozio Leggero
Italy, various cities

Gra de Gràcia
Barcelona, Spain

day by day
France, various cities

Original Unverpackt
Berlin, Germany

Click here, here or here for more packaging-free shopping options.