Now obviously we all know that the best way to buy food is at your local farmer's market or local independent shops, or through a box scheme, where the food isn't shrink-wrapped to within an inch of its life, and we can put it in reusable bags we've brought with us. But what about those trips to the supermarket that we do make? What to do about the excessive, ridiculous, levels of packaging?
The first thing to do is to pick foods that have a relatively low level of packaging. If you're buying apples for example, pick the loose ones to put into a bag yourself (you could even take bags with you for this purpose). Don't tie up the top too tightly: you can reuse it then.
But it's at the checkout that it gets interesting. In November 2006 environment minister Ben Bradshaw proclaimed that we should all rid our foodstuffs of their excessive packaging at the checkout, and leave it for the supermarket to deal with. The Guardian ran an amusing article at the time on the response its writers met at the various UK supermarkets when they tried this tactic: [Guardian Article].
But we cannot hide behind good old British avoidance of embarrassment for ever. Campaigns against excessive supermarket packaging have been running for a while in other European countries such as Ireland ([Report on a campaign group's attempt to return packaging to a supermarket]) and Germany.
The problem is that while unpacking your food at the checkout, or returning it at a later date, might make a point, it cannot be guaranteed that everything you leave behind will not be chucked into the landfill bin. At least if you take it home it can be sorted and recycled properly.
As with most underground movements, this one needs to grow considerably before the supermarkets can be forced to take action. They are ruled by profits and bottom lines. If enough people start voting with their wallets, they will have to start listening to their customers. How many people leaving their packaging at the checkout it will take before they start to believe that it is not necesary to put three layers of wrapping on food is a total unknown. Shall we find out?
To be continued with something on the government's publication of its Waste & Resources Action Program.
How about reusable packaging? Edit
Removing the packaging at checkout should not mean the acceptance of the product. At times it is difficult to handle the products without the packaging. Reusable packaging may be the answer, you take products to home along with packaging and return the packaging to the store later for reuse.
Where can reusable packaging be found?
The classic resuable packaging used to be returning bottles to the offie once you'd drunk the beer in them. This practice seems to have died out, probably due to the suppliers rather than the consumers because they used to get paid a few pence for each bottle! Increasingly stringent health and safety codes of practice may play a part, and reusing bottles may now be deemed insanitary.
It may still be possible to return packaging for reuse, but stores tend to discourage it, quite simply because they're lazy. It's a hassle for them to process the returned packaging and therefore they don't want to have to deal with it if they can deal only with nice clean packets instead. If we start asking our local stores if they will take returns, we will not only raise their awareness, but also put pressure on them to start taking it back!
In the meantinme, if you're buying stuff that is difficult to handle without packaging, consider taking containers to put it into. For example, at the butcher's, get them to put your bacon in a tupperware box rather than plastic wrapping and another bag that will only go into the landfill. It saves on unpacking time when you get home too!!