Growing demand for sustainable business concepts

Hamburg's founders and entrepreneurs keen on zero-waste approaches and compostable products
06 January 2022
Plastic Atlas 2019 by BUND and Heinrich Böll Foundation

Sustainability is becoming the consensus and legislators are responding to growing calls to protect the environment and nature. Since July 3, various single-use plastic products such as to-go cups and fast-food packaging made of Styrofoam, straws and cotton swabs have been banned in the EU. More measures have been agreed and from 2022, plastic bags will be banned from retail. And the catering industry will have to offer reusable containers as an alternative to single-use packaging from 2023.

Zero-waste shopping at "Loses Mundwerk"

On the other hand, consumer awareness is changing. "One in two consumers say they have changed or adapted their consumption behaviour for reasons of sustainability," according to the Statista report "Sustainable Consumption in Germany 2021 (Nachhaltiger Konsum in Deutschland 2021). More and more founders like Dorit Hinrichsen are keen on sustainable business models and in September, she opened her unpacked shop called Loses Mundwerk in west Hamburg. The assortment includes organic food, natural cosmetics and cleaning products that are sold according to the zero-waste principle. Customers bring their own containers and fill the required amount themselves. People who portion out their purchases buy only the quantities needed which avoids both packaging and food waste. To ensure the unpackaged approach works, Hinrichsen gives shoppers hints on her website: "Before you go shopping, look through your cupboards and consider whether you can combine food you already have with your purchase." 

Cup Candle - compostable tea lights

Candles are in demand amid the pandemic. "The pandemic and the associated desire for a hyggeligen or cosy atmosphere has caused the entire candle industry to take off," said Karsten Inderbiethen, founder of Cup Candle. The whole of Europe seems to be longing for such an atmosphere. "Every year, 12 to 14 billion tea lights are sold across the continent. That makes a string of lights that would reach eleven times around the earth," she noted.  However, most of the tiny candles come in small aluminium cases, which cause a lot of waste.

Cup Candle's compostable tea lights offer an environment-friendly alternative. "The burning mass for our series of light tea candles consists of vegetable wax harvested in Europe and the tea candles come in envelopes made of cellulose and bio-polymer." The wick is made from a cotton thread and even the tiny tin plate to which it is attached will be replaced by compostable material by 2024 making it fully sustainable.

Cup Candles "" series
© Cup Candle
Cup Candles "" series

Expanding product range 

Founded in 2015, the start-up is working with the Richard Wenzel company as a licensee. Cup Candles series of light tea candles will go on sale in leading grocery shops, chemists and organic food shops next April. Inderbiethen expects sales of 63 million tea lights in 2022, and 500 million by 2024. "Demand is not the problem, rather we are struggling with skyrocketing prices due to the shortage of raw materials." Plans are also being laid to expand the product range. "We want to launch compostable lights for use in cemeteries by late 2022 and are working on compostable packaging for tableware and detergent packs to reduce the growing mountain of plastic waste."

Strohmi natural straws

Another founder, Marie-Luise Dobler, has come up with a sustainable alternative to plastic straws and hers are actually made of straw. Her start-up, strohmi Naturstrohhalm GmbH, grows its own organic rye seed in Schleswig-Holstein, from which the straws are produced and later cut to size and packaged in a Lübeck prison - a win-win situation. The consumer gets a hand-made, natural product and the inmates become used to working. Germany is the largest consumer of straws with 4.8 billion plastic straws after Britain (2018). And thanks to the EU's ban, the way has been paved for natural straws free of plastic.