Did you know? Less than one 20% of the world’s plastic gets recycled. Considering we produce about 448 million tons of plastic annually, that’s a lot of plastic ending up in landfills or dumped in the ocean where it can take centuries (or more) to degrade.
National Geographic published an excellent article in 2018 about our problematic relationship with plastic. As the article points out, most of the world’s “mismanaged” plastics originate in Asian countries where waste management industries are underdeveloped. However, it also points out that in countries like the US, less than 10% of all plastics are being recycled.
We have a problem.
One of our biggest problems, when it comes to plastic, is single-use plastics; plastic that was designed to be thrown out immediately and is often not recycled. Single-use plastics are things like straws (which have been getting a lot of bad press lately), disposable cups and drink lids, plastic grocery bags and, of course, plastic packaging.
When it comes to our groceries, plastic is everywhere. Produce bags, plastic wrap, food trays and more.
It comes down to two things: safety and shelf life. Foods that are sealed in plastic simple last longer on shelves and are less prone to harmful contaminants.
However, many grocery stores are fighting this (in ways that still keep us safe from contaminants). And, as consumers, we need to support those efforts.
Grocery stores tend to get bad press for wasteful habits and too much packaging. But, the truth is, many of these stores are working hard to reduce the amount of waste produced in their stores. As businesses, they know better than anyone that wasted product (or product packaging) is essentially wasted money.
Additionally, as they deal with large quantities of food, they see the amount of both food and packaging that gets wasted along the farm-to-fork journey. Many conscientious shop owners and managers have a deep respect for food and their responsibility to help reduce waste, in all forms.
Many stores have outright banned single-use plastic bags, or charge a small fee for them. Although the average plastic bag is used for only twelves minutes, it can take five hundred years or more to degrade. And let’s not forget the impact of producing plastic bags, which requires millions of barrels of oil each year. It’s time to get serious about reusable bags.
Those small, thin bags for holding your tomatoes or apples can be just as bad as grocery bags. Many grocery stores now space these rolls of bags out further to encourage people to simply not use them, and others now sell reusable mesh produce bags in their produce sections. A set of these bags can cost as little as three dollars.
This is a biggie. Of course, we can’t do away with packaging for deli meats, raw meat and seafood. That would just be unsanitary! But many grocery stores, including big chains like Sobeys, are starting to offer this amazing service. When you bring your own container to the butcher’s counter, you can ask them to weigh out your order and package it in your own reusable container. The meat, seafood or deli meat is either weighed first, or your empty container is weighed first to subtract from the final weight. That way, you only pay for what you ordered, and not your container’s weight.
Whether you can take advantage of this really depends on what’s available in your area, but there are now several shops across North America and Europe that require you to bring your own containers. None are available in store! Depending on the store, you can get everything from dry goods and produce to even cleaning supplies and beauty care products.
The more we, as consumers, take advantage of efforts by grocery stores to reduce plastic waste, the more of these efforts they’ll be able to introduce. It comes down to simple economics. To thrive as a business, grocery stores need to meet customer demands. Which means we have a lot of power to help change the way they do things.
After all, it was consumer demand that led to so much packaging in the first place. We can now change things for the better, too.
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