Plastic is nowadays as naturally occurring in supermarkets as sand corns are on a shore. In Europe, the package sector is the biggest segment of the plastic manufacture (with almost 40%) and thereby creating a real symbiosis with the food industry.
It took me a while to realize to what extent plastic packages are dominating our daily shopping. Maybe I also just ignored it, because if I am honest, I haven’t been thinking too much about the waste I was producing for a long time. Well, of course I separated everything nicely as I learned so, but apart from that I mostly bought my stuff just like it was offered: Wrapped and sealed beyond recognition.
Until such time as I increasingly started to deal with the aspect of sustainability in everyday life. I mean, I can hardly plan to work in the environmental sector and acting as a do-gooder without removing my own skeletons in the closet, can I? And plastic definitely belongs to the evil stuff as it has this nasty property that it is not biodegradable and so will outlive myself several hundreds of years. Furthermore, I simply could not accept anymore that I am so dependent on a material which is actually just filling my waste bin way too quickly. Therefore I converted to an as-plastic-free-as-possible shopper. At first it also sounds like an easy concept.
Highly motivated and full of confidence to change everything, you are heading to the usual discount supermarket. Your mission: no plastic (or best no unnecessary packages at all) in the shopping bag. Everything is possible, if we only want to and change habits! Well, unfortunately this exaltation only lasts until this very moment when you stand outside the supermarket again, with almost empty hands and full of frustration: tomatoes, eggs and some of the fruits which were not already wrapped in portions. Out of habit, you even packed the ladder in one of the everywhere available plastic bags. Looks like fried egg plus tomato salad days and full anticipation for the next plastic-free shopping day!
But seriously, it really isn’t that easy. Even I as a self-appointed plastic-free shopping expert (I really should add this to my CV…), am regularly standing in a shop and don’t know how to continue. Especially in the usual discounters it is simply impossible to shop in an environmental friendly manner. Although most people actually would prefer to shop without so much waste, according to a survey of the German environmental NGO NABU, everything is wrapped and packed in bits and mostly not once, but two- or threefold! Everyday stress, convenience and habit are probably those traits, why people continue with buying it.
Since packings for some groceries like pasta or cereals, might be somehow understandable (because even this is possible without), the sense in case of wrapped fruits and vegetables is not so obvious. It would not harm to put the pepper in the bag without any package, wouldn’t it? Well, but then we would only buy exactly the amount we need and throw away less in the end – and this is not what we want in our throwaway society! Unfortunately this mind game works with almost everyone: ‘Considering the amount, the multi-pack is much cheaper than one single piece. Actually I don’t need so many pieces but given the price argument…’ As a result the green pepper regularly molds in the fridge.
For this reason (and some others), I basically turned my back on discount markets and rather go to those shops, where I at least have the chance to choose plastic free versions. But still, I regularly reach the limits of my tolerance.
Let’s take for example the ‚organic-plastic-paradox‘ as we typically find it in the fruit and vegetable sections in German supermarkets. I don’t know if you have the same phenomenon in your country, but you can imagine it like this: directly next to the usual product (unpacked) you will find the organic or Fairtrade version – wrapped in plastic. And although I am already quite familiar with this situation, my emotional reaction is always the same. A lack of comprehension mixed with deep anger. Can anyone please explain me what the hell is the sense of this idiocy? Is it a compensation strategy – for fear of making the world to a slightly better place, we compensate the supposed good with more plastic waste? Best idea ever!
Another example is the ‚plastic-is-handy-illusion‘, which I can explain best with a little personal everyday life story. One day in a supermarket: On the shopping list are nectarines, but these are only available in a typical plastic box wrapped in a red net and integrated handle. Firstly, I am reluctant but then I am thinking ‘Well, I can make an exception once’ and grab the box. In the next instant all fruits are distributed everywhere just not in the handy wrapping. The handle broke and this is already enough for a little rage attack. Why does this stupid thing have a handle if I cannot handle it? My mother, who accompanied me on that significant day, just looks at me uncomprehendingly and simply says that of course this is not meant for carrying something.
Er… Excuse me? I am honestly confused. I mean, can you imagine another purpose of this construction if not for carrying? If anything, then this is the only somehow reasonable explanation for this whole plastic shit – that we can carry our nectarines!
However, I accept this for a moment, put the fruits back in the not-handy-anymore plastic box, grab a second intact one and rush to the checkout hoping the plastic-karma won’t catch me. I pack everything and since every mistake in life is committed twice, I grab the handle again and… Well, same story. My mother was obviously right again and I am more than ever convinced that plastic packages, even if they give another impression, are absolutely senseless and solely exist to make my life more difficult.
Consequently, in order to prevent myself from more of such traumatic experiences, I better go to the little organic shop, thereby resisting the daily renewal of small paper bags and hoping that an alternative grocer’s shop with an unpacked concept will also open in my city.