I find traipsing around a supermarket for any length of time a bit of a challenge with multiple sclerosis. Then you’ve got the whole business of waiting in a queue draped over a trolley which has now become a quasi-walking frame. So I’ve given the weekly shop away in favour of short supermarket trips during the week for the essentials. On these occasions my purchases fit nicely into the one jute bag that I take to accompany me on these trips.
This week however, my supplies were getting dangerously low so I decided to shop online. I went and picked up my order which was presented as a trolleyful of goodies wrapped in brown paper parcels, most of which were taped closed. Apart that is, from the wine and a few larger items which were loose in trolley. Thankfully I had my trusty jute bag on hand for these and my initial reaction on seeing the paper bags was one of “good on them for phasing out the plastic bags”. However, after several trips transporting all these handle-less bags whilst walking with a crutch, I began to change my opinion.
Setting aside for a moment the fact that all these brown paper parcels aren’t very convenient for anyone with a disability to carry, what I saw on opening them was plastic packaging on steroids. My meat was not only on plastic trays and heavily wrapped in layers of clingfilm, each item was individually put into a clear plastic bag which wasn’t even suitable to re-use as a liner for my rubbish bin!
The amount of single-use plastic waste was literally gobsmacking. I ordered 400g of sirloin steak and each steak was packed individually on three separate plastic trays. It was the same with the casserole steak and chicken that I’d ordered. These items were then placed into a clear plastic bag before being wrapped up in the brown paper! As if this weren’t enough, why on earth does a tin of pineapple now need to be supplied with its own plastic lid?
My recycling bin is now a quarter full of brown paper and clear plastic bags. My understanding was that all this is supposed to be about reducing waste, not creating more packaging than we did in the days when we weren’t even trying to cut down on packaging. And whilst the paper bags are from a renewable source and are biodegradable, compostable and recyclable, they require significantly more energy to manufacture and transport than plastic bags and normally have limited reusability. If disposed of in landfill, they are likely to degrade and release methane.
If you need an example of major supermarket chains making tokenistic gestures so they appear to be embracing social responsibility then in my opinion, this is it. I won’t be doing that again! I’d opt for a good farmers market any day but that presents its own set of problems, not only concerning bags and crutches – there are usually no disabled parking facilities and no trolley to lean on unfortunately!