Supermarket Confusion or: How We Can Bring About More Sustainable Shopping

by Khelil Bouarrouj

September 13, 2018

When it comes to sustainable versus unsustainable packaging, supermarkets can’t make up their mind. Let’s show them the way!

Why Supermarkets, Why?! ©Khelil Bouarrouj

When it comes to plastic versus plastic-free packaging, supermarkets can’t make up their mind. I recently strolled through a major supermarket chain (I’ll leave out its name since all major supermarket retailers score negatively when it comes to single-use plastic, as documented in our recent report Carting Away the Oceans 10) and was flabbergasted at the displays that, side-by-side, presented consumers with the diametrically opposed options of sustainable shopping versus throwaway plastic that’s used for a brief moment but litters our lands and oceans for hundreds of years.

Take a look at the potatoes on offer:

©Khelil Bouarrouj

Or how about them apples:

©Khelil Bouarrouj

And this duo really got a frown from me: On the top shelf, plastic wrapped collard greens and plastic-free kale, but right below plastic-wrapped kale and plastic-free collard greens:

Now, perhaps, you can understand why it felt like I was looking at a battle between two contradictory trends in a produce section.

This was a repeat offense:

©Khelil Bouarrouj

But one can understand why supermarkets offer plastic and plastic-free options: modern American consumerism is based on the idea of unlimited choice, including in packaging, for every type of consumer. Apparently supermarkets think this means that consumers want not only a plastic bag of, say, potatoes but sometimes even a single potato wrapped in plastic.

©Khelil Bouarrouj

Or a single cucumber or squash. All four of these vegetables have a natural peel, which makes the plastic wrapping even more ridiculous, hence why we’ve taken to labeling it as #pointlessplastic on social media. (Feel free to do the same and tag us on Twitter @greenpeaceusa)

And why stop at one? Why not plastic packaging for just two?

©Khelil Bouarrouj

All this plastic packaging is enormously destructive and entirely avoidable (as the supermarket shelves themselves prove), and is a “solution” in search of a problem. There was never a clamoring for everything to be wrapped in plastic — before the 1960s, supermarkets neither plastic-wrapped produce nor offered plastic bags. And everyone managed to buy groceries in a perfectly fine manner. That remains true today where one can easily buy everything they need plastic-free at farmers markets, an increasingly popular place to shop. It was a corporate error, rooted in their gospel of convenience, that consumers wanted everything neatly packaged — and since plastic is cheap and malleable — we now have supermarket shelves that look like plastic emporiums.

But do we really want this? There’s the obvious cost to our planet: Over 90% of plastic produced has not been recycled, and 79% ends up in landfills or the environment.  Over the next decade, plastic producers are set to increase production by 40%. If plastic is convenient, that’s a high cost for convenience.

The good news is that we can change all this and bring about a new era of more sustainable shopping. Just as supermarkets embraced plastic in the mistaken belief that this is what consumers want, they will embrace sustainable packaging if we tell them this is what we really want.

You can add your voice and join the over 70,000 (and counting) people who have signed our petition to supermarket CEOs demanding they reduce plastic packaging.

We can make this happen. All it takes is a determined movement that tells supermarkets we enjoy our fruits and veggies looking free and beautiful like this:

©Khelil Bouarrouj

And not covered in destructive, inconvenient and pointless plastic like this:

©Khelil Bouarrouj

Free the tomatoes!

Khelil Bouarrouj

By Khelil Bouarrouj

Khelil Bouarrouj is the Digital Content Associate at Greenpeace USA.

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