Why does everything come in plastic?
Down every aisle you wonder, the shelves are lined with pretty plastic packaging that appeals to our eyes but does not appeal to the environment one bit. After all, we don’t eat the plastic, but little fishies unknowingly eat this poison with around 100 million marine animals dying each year from plastic waste alone, with 100,000 marine animals dying from getting entangled in plastic yearly. These numbers only cover the creatures we find – it’s easily higher!
An art exhibit in New York back showed everyday food shop items made entirely out of plastic. Artist, designer and filmmaker Robin Frohardt created The Plastic Bag Store, a small supermarket stocked exclusively with plastic products. But refill stores exist in small pockets all around the world, with many small refill stations appearing in mainstream stores as well. We have tried to reduce plastic by charging for plastic bags and replacing them with paper alternatives, so why can’t we wrap our apples in paper or purchase a reusable fruit and vegetable bag?
Refill stores help to reduce the environmental cost of producing and disposing of single-use plastics. But while refill stores should become more standardised, their impact on the environment is less significant when compared to reducing meat consumption. Even if going vegan isn’t an option for you, you could reduce how much meat or animal based products you eat in a week. They typically require you to bring your own containers to take home your goods however some do sell their own tubs if you need them. Foods like pasta and oil are kept in glass containers while in the store. But to make your reusable plastic or glass container worth it, you have to keep up with and shop refill more than you buy plastic wrapped products.
Supermarket giant Asda ran a trial of a refill store in Middleton, Leeds before considering incorporating it into their other stores. The supermarket has partnered with some of the UK’s most popular household brands including PG Tips, Vimto, Kellogg’s, Radox and Persil to bring you brands you love at the fraction of the environmental cost. Since then Asda has added more refill shops in Glasgow and York after the success of the store in Leeds.
Refill stores can also help minimise food waste, allowing customers to fill up their containers to how much they need. As long as they don’t overfill their jars. If you only need a few portions of pasta for a family dinner, it saves buying a bigger bag then you’ll need – especially if you’re not a pasta lover. Stores can also help prevent food waste by donating their food to homeless charities or selling it for a lower price on apps like Too Good To Go that allow the store to sell ‘magic bags’ of their products that go out of date on the day of purchase.
There is also the argument that recyclable and biodegradable plastic exists. Biodegradable plastics however are not widely used across all brands and they are still produced using fossil fuels so it is up for debate on how environmentally friendly biodegradable plastics are. Many customers have commented that they would wash their fruit and veg before eating regardless of whether they came packaged in plastic, paper or came loose. Some supermarkets provide loose fruit and veg as well as packaged ones. Why do we need both? Short answer, we don’t. The planet definitely doesn’t need extra plastic.
Wax paper can be used to wrap up the top of jars, burritos etc. Some reusable wraps contain beeswax however they can be made suitable for vegans from the BeesWax Wraps company. Many of us have got into the habit of having shopping bags in our car boot ready for any unexpected trips to the store. It wouldn’t be difficult to also remember to keep a few vegetable bags in there too.
There are also milk delivery services that are available to deliver glass bottles of milk, milkshakes and sometimes fruit. They deliver glass bottles of milk which are left on your doorsteps to be collected, washed and reused.
Even if you are purchasing vegan and products not wrapped in plastic, you might also need to consider other factors. Such as how local the produce is. The product might help reduce the environmental cost but being wrapped in paper but, did it have to travel hundreds of miles to get to you?
If we really want to make an impact on the world’s plastic waste, we need to do a lot more than refill shops. Refill shops are part of the beginning but they are not the solution to all the world’s plastic problems.
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