Waste is big news at the moment. With the introduction of pay-by-weight, minds have been concentrated on keeping rubbish to a minimum in a way that environmental concerns have not to date achieved. (There was a documentary on RTE last night about this too – I didn’t get to watch it but it revealed some shocking stats which you can read here).
However, athough they might be secondary to most people, the environmental issues around rubbish are definitely causing more people to reconsider how they shop, particularly since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet highlighted just what all the plastic waste we dispose of is doing to wildlife.
I did Plastic Free July in 2017, partly so I could write about it but mainly because when you introduce nappies into the equation, our impact on the planet suddenly looks absolutely horrendous. I had mixed success, and you can read about it here (many of the changes I made then are now normal to our household, so it is worth doing).
Through initiatives like Plastic Free Kinsale and the Conscious Cup Campaign, the move away from disposables is very mainstream now, which is why I was really amazed at an encounter I had before Christmas in a small supermarket supplied by Cork company Musgrave (I won’t name it here).
Musgrave are not the only culprit here. I try to shop ethically so I avoid shopping in chains with poor records on how they treat their workers, so that rules out some of the bigger ones. I won’t name them, but have a think about where you’ve seen workers strike. Lidl have made a lot of noise about going plastic-free and their fruit and veg isn’t too bad on this score but I have yet to see huge progress there. Aldi aren’t great either, and while M&S are probably the best, like most people I can’t afford to do my weekly shop there!
In most Centras and Super Valu stores I’ve been in recently, however, it appears that almost everything you can buy is now covered in plastic, including even small purchases of fruit and veg like three or four oranges. This wasn’t always the case, and I can’t understand why it has changed – and the likes of Scally’s Clonakilty proves that where there’s a will there’s a way. There was quite a publicity drive last year about SV introducing biobags (compostable bags) for loose fruit and veg, but given that they barely sell any loose fruit and veg any more I thought it was a bit rich.
So I’ve made a point of giving feedback in stores in relation to packaging in the hope that this will be passed up through the rankings. I know, you know, and they know, that no retail worker bears responsibility for this. So when I do say it, I make a point of asking them to feed it to their supervisor / whoever does the ordering / management.
I do this everywhere I go and most places, there is a pretty good reception to it, because well, we all live in the same world, don’t we…
The response I got from a member of management in the particular store was astonishingly bad customer service, and to be fair, may have been nothing more significant than that. (The gist was, why are you telling me, it’s nothing to do with me, etc, even though I specifically asked for it to be fed back to the supplier) but what really surprised me was that the guy I spoke to was absolutely unaware of this as an issue. When I asked was he aware of the public campaign regarding plastics – indeed, their own store is currently running a reusable cup promotion – he said “I will leave that to the public”. Me being the public clearly didn’t dawn.
I posted about it on Facebook at the time… and emailed the CEO of Musgrave, too. Because if the message isn’t getting through from people on the ground, you’ve got to go straight to the top.
Musgrave contacted me to say they are working on reducing plastics and their strategy will take a couple of years to roll out. They have asked if they can meet me to fill me in on their work in this area, and I will update here when that’s happened. I’m hoping they have lots of good stuff to report as I like to support Irish companies where possible…
Meanwhile if you’re interested in reducing your plastic use, here are some good resources:
Plastic Free Kinsale – local initiative run by two brilliant Kinsale women to reduce the town’s single-use plastics