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At the Supermarket - #PlasticLessLent: Week 6

At the Supermarket - #PlasticLessLent: Week 6

A Plastic Planet - Plastic Free Aisle

The #PlasticLessLent challenge enters its final stage and this week the choir are going to be looking at ways to reduce our plastic consumption when food shopping.

We've left this topic till last, as it is seemingly the most daunting to tackle. Supermarkets in the UK produce 1 million tons of plastic waste every year, wrapping food that will last a few days or weeks in plastic that will last for centuries.

The problem is so big that it might seem too difficult to even attempt to make changes. But whilst it is almost impossible to shop for food without any plastic at all, it is easy to make significant reductions.

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Shopping Bags

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Bass Philip Tebb models a jute reusable bijoux shopping bag

The first way to reduce your use of plastic whilst shopping is pretty obvious: take your own bags with you. Since the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge in 2015, most of us have learnt to remember to take our own bags to the shops, but we're encouraged to buy bigger, stronger plastic bags from the supermarkets, which although last longer than their single-use cousins, aren't the best solution for a world drowning in plastic. So by all means use up the plastic bags in your house you have already, and recycle them back at the supermarket when they finally give up the ghost. But when you're running short of plastic bags, consider replacing them with canvas or jute bags. These will last much longer, and are biodegradable at the end of their lives.

All large supermarkets have their own plastic bag recycling scheme, which means that your local council won't bother collecting this type of plastic. Polyethylene film is the stretchy type of plastic that bread bags and magazine wrappers are made of (as opposed to the crinkly non-stretchy plastic on bags of pasta or green beans). Consider collecting this type of plastic together during the week, and then taking it with you to the supermarket depository when you do your weekly shop. Other items suitable for this recycling are the bags that apples, bananas and potatoes come in, the covering on cucumbers, the plastic wrapping on multipacks of tinned food, the plastic rings which connect aluminium cans together, toilet roll wrappers, plastic freezer bags, and even bubble wrap!

Shop Smaller

If you're lucky enough to live near a good greengrocer, butcher, bakery, fishmonger or food market, try to use them more often, even if only once or twice a month. They are much more likely to let you use your own bags and containers than big supermarkets, and in the case of buying fruit and vegetables, you will save money to boot. In this article, US blogger Beth Terry shows how she buys and stores meat without the use of plastic:

https://myplasticfreelife.com/2016/04/buying-and-storing-meat-without-plastic/

Individually wrapped chocolate and cereal bars, bags of crisps and packets of biscuits and crackers are all packaged in plastic wrappers that will outlive us all. Try making your own at home, and freezing the results in batches, so you always have something to grab on the go. Look online for easy recipes, such as this collection of granola bars from Good Housekeeping:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/healthy/g2311/healthy-granola-bar-recipes-0222/

Shop Savvy

As you walk around the supermarket and reach for your usual items, stop and have a look around to see if there are any obvious alternatives to plastic packaging. For example, Waitrose sell their 'Essentials' range butter in paper, Lidl sell rice and couscous in cardboard boxes, porridge oats and sugar are widely available packaged in paper, and cooking oil and vinegar are easily sourced in glass bottles. Zero-waste shops are growing in popularity around the UK. Selling bulk staples such as rice, pasta and cereal by weight, and providing refill stations for cleaning liquids, these shops are throwing off their niche appeal, and becoming a reassuring vision of the future.

Check this website to see if you live anywhere near a zero-waste shop:

https://thezerowaster.com/zero-waste-near-you/

The more customers zero waste shops can court, the more the big supermarkets will have to sit up and take notice. A branch of Ekoplaza in Amsterdam became the first supermarket in the world to open a plastic-free aisle, giving customers the choice to buy their products packaged in all biodegradable materials:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/plastic-planet-packaging-free-supermarket-ekoplaza-amsterdam-netherlands-recycling-pollution-a8232101.html

We can only hope our own UK supermarkets are watching with interest. Iceland announced last month that it aims to go plastic-free by 2023, but so far, other UK retailers have remained silent on the subject.

Conclusion

The UK government are looking at ways in which to reduce the use of plastic, especially food wrapping produced by the big supermarkets. Ideas such as a tax on single use plastic, putting pressure on supermarkets to provide plastic-free aisles, and a deposit/return scheme are all being debated, but it will take many years to put these policies into law. However, there are ways in which we can all shop in a more environmentally sound manner, with a little extra thought about the products we choose.

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