I came across a video on YouTube a while ago that inspired me to think about all the plastic waste we produce while shopping for groceries. More importantly, I became aware of how many amazing alternatives to plastic packaging are already out there that have the same convenient properties for food storage. I like to rewatch this video anytime I feel like I need a reminder of how bad the problem of single-use-plastics actually is, how much it is hurting our environment and how simple the solution could actually be. We have to change the fact that the aisles in our supermarkets look like this way too often:

Unnecessary plastic packaging (change.org)

The effects of our excessice use of plastic

Caterpillar compactor working in a landfill (naturalnews.com)
Seal with plastic bag around his neck (onegreenplanet.org)

I think we have all seen these kinds of pictures before and they speak for themselves. Through our unnecessary and excessive use of plastic, we endanger the health of the ecosystems that are vital for our planet and for our own survival. The fact that we are still going on with it even though excellent, compostable alternatives to plastic have been found, is incomprehensible to me. We are aware of the islands of plastic that are floating on the ocean and of animals eating or being entangled in our plastic waste and dying from it. The packaging we throw away after one single use is likely to end up in the environment instead of being recycled and because of natural weathering processes it can degrade to microplastics of less than 5 mm in size which make freeing the ocean from plastic even more of a challenge.

Supermarkets: part of the problem and part of the solution

Supermarkets, particularly chains, have an immense influence on the decisions of companies. It would be possible for them to simply inform the brands that they will cease to sell their products if they will not opt for plastic-free, environmentally-friendly packaging. A Budgens supermarket in north London has proven this and can succesfully offer a vast variety of products free from plastic packaging.

Budgens supermarket in North London (conveniencestore.co.uk)
Cutting plastic out in Budgens supermarket (letsgreenoffice.com)

Andrew Thornton, the owner of this Budgens, says that they “took action because (they) could” and in only ten weeks they were able to transform large parts of their shop into plastic-free zones. They simply imformed the companies who were supplying them with products that they would find other alternatives if they were not able to offer them their products in plastic-free packaging. And it worked! Plus, their shop is even doing better as a business now that they are able to present customers with the option of consuming in a more environmentally-friendly manner. Imagine what impact bigger retailers could have if they took this Budgens as an example for their own businesses! Andrew Thornton´s comment on this subject was: “If we, as one store operator with very little resources, can do this in ten weeks, what could a Loblaws, or a Tesco or a Walmart do, if they put all the resources behind it?”

Alternatives to plastic

The video mentions packaging made out of plant-based cellulose as an alternative to plastic packaging. I very recently came across “Nature Flex” which looks and feels just like plastic, but is made out of renewable wood pulp and can be disposed of on the compost heap.

Nature Flex (futamuragroup.com)
Chocolate wrapped in a Nature Flex film (packaging-journal.de)

I was absolutely amazed by this as I had not previously been aware of the fact that there are already alternatives to plastic that are just as good at ensuring good hygiene and longer shelf life as plastic but compostable and thus environmentall-friendly. Please tell me if you already knew about this! After finding out about it, I am now officially confused about why this stuff is not everywhere yet instead of a substance that is a serious danger to the health of our ecosystems.

Conclusion

To conclude, we have a serious problem with plastic waste. It is everywhere nowadays and while animals are dying from swallowing it and entire islands are turned into landfills, we are still bringing home ridiculous amounts of plastic from our shop for groceries. I understand that not everybody has the option of going to an organic bulk store just around the corner because those are sadly way too scarce. That is why I think it is so important that supermarkets start giving their customers the option of choosing plastic-free when shopping. I am certain that enough people care about the environment for a simple change like this to have a real impact. The example of the Budgens supermarket in London shows that it is possible, and even quite simple for a store to make the switch to plastic-free packaging. We only have to demand this change from the retailers. That is how capitalism works: the companies will change their ways if the consumers demand it. None of us is insignificant in this matter. We may be small, but we are significant!