I read this article about zero waste shopping on Treehugger the other day and realised that, while I do my best to remember my reusable bags when I go shopping and recycle packaging at home, I could be doing a whole lot more. In fact, we could all be doing a whole lot more: consumers, manufacturers, producers, exporters, everyone.
I firmly believe that we humans are merely stewards of this planet, the caretakers if you like, until the owner returns or until new caretakers arrive. At the moment, we’re collectively behaving like teenagers that have been left home alone. We’ve turned all the lights on, cranked the music up loud in every room, not tidied up after ourselves and eaten every morsel of food in the cupboards. We need to start behaving more like our caretakers down at school; taking pride in where we live, being frugal with the resources we have available to us and looking after the place a bit better.
After reading the article, I resolved to do my weekly shop the next day purchasing as little plastic packaging as possible. I’m the kind of person who throws themselves wholeheartedly into a new thing. So I was dismayed upon reaching the supermarket, which happened to be Lidl, but could have been Tesco, Aldi or any of the other big names, to find that my mission was thwarted straight away. Apart from the odd box of loose fruit or vegetables, everything in that section was pre-packed in plastic bags. Furthermore, the bags provided for the loose fruit were plastic too. The meat and fish were all on the usual plastic trays. The aim to carry out zero waste shopping was going to be trickier than I first thought.
I’m going to pause here to clarify something. I’m not totally anti-plastic. Plastic has a place. It has amazing properties. I bet Du Pont and all the other scientists, who developed plastic from nylon onwards, had no idea just how much we would use plastic when they first invented it. I just think we’ve got a bit carried away. We’ve gone plastic mad and I think we need to review what we manufacture from it. It shouldn’t be our ‘go to’ material for everything. We should explore other options first. Many environmentally-conscious companies are already using recycled plastic, cardboard, pressed fibre, paper, sustainably-sourced wood and many other materials to construct their products and for packaging, but unfortunately they are a drop in the ocean compared to the huge numbers of companies (many of them in China, it has to be said) who continue to manufacture cheap, plastic tat all wrapped up in plastic packaging.
Back to my zero waste mission.
For quite a long time I’ve been thinking we were doing quite well by recycling as much packaging as possible, diligently rinsing out yoghurt pots, tin cans, plastic trays, dismantling cardboard boxes and sorting the mail to go in our recycling bin. It certainly makes me feel better about the packaging that can’t go in the recycling and ends up in land fill: those thin plastic bags that pre-packed fruit and vegetables come in; black polystyrene trays; cellophane windows from cardboard packaging.
Now though, I’d like to move on a step. All that packaging shouldn’t be there in the first place. It wasn’t there in years gone by. It’s our fast-paced, consumer-driven society, and manufacturers telling us that this is more convenient for us, which has led to the huge amount of packaging that surrounds us. It might be nigh on impossible, not to mention more expensive, to buy products in environmentally friendly packaging, but this is where we all have to pull together. The mentality of ‘what difference can little old me make?’ needs to change to ‘if we all do our bit we can make a difference’. The manufacturers would soon find alternative packaging if we all, as consumers, stopped buying their plastic-wrapped products!
I suspect I’m going to have to change the way I shop and it might be more time consuming, but will ultimately be better for everyone concerned. It will probably involve driving to our nearest market town, rather than nipping to the supermarket. It will involve visiting several shops: butcher, baker, greengrocer. It will mean I’m supporting local businesses as well, which is only a good thing. Basically, it’s the way my grandmothers shopped. Of course, if we could grow more of our own fruit and vegetables that would also be a bonus.
Naturally there are some things that can only be bought at the supermarket or online and they inevitably come packaged in plastic. But if we all make a conscious effort to avoid the plastic stuff as much as possible, we can make a difference. What I’d really like to see is the government getting more involved in environmental issues. Perhaps subsidies for British companies that use environmentally friendly packaging so that they can make their prices more competitive. And more stringent rules on the exports we bring in. This would also support homegrown businesses.
This is all easier said than done, but I’m determined to give it a go. I know roughly how much our weekly shop costs at the moment and I’ll be interested to see how much zero waste shopping costs for a start. I’ll let you all know how I get on in a few months time.