Today I went to the local supermarket and did the usual rounds of the aisles, loading the trolley with packets of food all wrapped in excessive amounts of cardboard and plastic. Today I picked up less than I usually do, but even so it was more than would fit into one or two bags.
On 1st October, Sainsbury’s took the decision to move the plastic bags off the end of the checkout, but to make them available if asked for. Not realising this, I stopped and asked. The conversation with the enthusiastic (over zealous?) 17yr old lad went along these lines:
“Could I please have some bags?”
“Yes, how many would you like?”
“I think six should do it, thanks.”
“Six? For that little lot? You don’t need six, you could get all of that into just four…”
“Do you think so? I don’t, which is why I have asked for six. If it turns out I can manage with less then I’ll leave some on the end of the checkout. Please pass me six bags.”
Now I wasn’t in a very good mood at that point in the day, and could possibly have been a little less ‘sharp’, but I really do object to being told I can do with less by someone who hasn’t done as much shopping as I have done, who chooses not to question the reason why he has been told to restrict the bags in the first place.
Apparently, it’s to save the planet, some environmental excuse like that. Which is fine – I’m the first to complain if I see something not being done, but I was told that it was the scourge of plastic bags which is most damaging to the environment, and made to feel as I was somehow to blame for the multiple thousands that are strewn along our highways and byways. I was the culprit, obviously.
I pointed out that plastic bags form less than 1% of all landfill, and that plastic packaging, such as that used for ready meals, forms a massive component. What really made me cross was that the supermarkets themselves promoted the use of plastic bags back in the late seventies to replace the humble cardboard box. Does anyone else remember hunting for a decent box under the checkouts and using those to pack the groceries in? When home, the box would be unpacked and crushed to go into the bin… or these days into the recycling. So what happened to boxes then? They were untidy components at the tills, polythene seemed far cheaper, more accessible, maybe. The humble cardboard box was cast out as inefficient and unwanted. Yet what is more environmentally suitable?
To my mind, the supermarkets drive the need for plastic packaging, by demanding foodstuffs that can be kept on the shelves longer, and are responsible for a huge proportion of the environmental damage we have got by importing foods from all over the planet (apparently we consumers demand that they do so) by using less than environmentally friendly processes. They introduce bags that do not degrade, and refuse to absorb far better alternatives, such as alternative plastics because they cost a bit more (and goodness knows, we can’t have a supermarket giant like Sainsbury reducing its profit margin by giving away better bags). They remove the cardboard boxes which were fine, actually, and then employ some spotty 17 year old child who is told to peddle the environmental angle to those of us who can remember what it was like to shop in small greengrocers that have long since been put out of business by supermarkets.
So the supermarket that employs the young man who doesn’t actually question any of what he has been told is the very same one that has been driving the need for the plastic packaging which forms the vast majority of household waste, and then turns on the guilt for the consumer by telling them how wasteful it is to use too many bags… the very bags which make up so very little of the content of land fill sites.
I just don’t get it.
Are we consumers now somehow responsible for the decisions that were taken at corporate level years ago? Decisions that were driven by efficiency demands, cost savings, commercial directions? Are we now going to just sit back and let Sainsbury and Tesco and every other large supermarket hoodwink us all into believing that we are all to blame for this? Maybe we should stop eating lychees and guavas, or tomatoes from Holland, and stick to the foods we can produce in our own country? Actually, I’m quite in favour of that.
Give me back the cardboard box and I’ll take it to a recycling plant. Give me a paper bag to pack the products into.Â Start putting milk back in to glass bottles, which are made from a pretty abundant raw material, after all and can be recycled. Start spending some of your enormous profits on envinronmentally friendly, alternative plastics for your bags (if you are going to provide any) and start putting meals for one into packaging that isn’t going to take three barrels of oil to make. But whatever else you do, never ever tell your staff to advise me that I don’t need six bags, particularly when they have no idea about what my needs really are, and when you have spent so much of this planet’s resources lining your pockets with cash for far too long.