For #GlobalRefillWeek, our local group took to the grocery stores to demand bulk, refillable, and reusable options.
We were equipped with small placards that read:
We placed these placards throughout the stores on products that were excessively packaged, could easily be offered in a more sustainable way, and/or products that we would be more likely to purchase if they were delivered differently. Our group took the time to consider pros and cons of the packaging in place and brainstorm possible solutions to reduce/eliminate the plastic packaging.
It was enlightening to take the time to REALLY consider how much unnecessary packaging is used for convenience purposes, such as; individually wrapped granola bars and juice boxes. As we looked around us, there didn't seem to be any alternative options for consumers to go without packaging!
Our day began at Safeway, located at 499 River Avenue, Winnipeg, MB. The location has been going through some renovations, which has presented a valuable opportunity to reduce plastic waste. After we went through the store with our placards, we visited customer service to speak with the manager. When we first introduced ourselves and presented the topic we wanted to discuss, they were quite put off and hesitant to engage. However, we were able to discuss the positive steps they were taking to reduce their plastic waste, which made for a meaningful conversation.
The store is expanding its bulk food section to be 4x the size it is currently. It will be full of bulk health foods, which are promised to be cheaper than their packaged counterparts. The store management has also been strategic in reducing plastic bag dispense stations throughout the produce section and have been placing additional reusable produce bags throughout.
The managers were helpful and allowed us to leave our flyer and letter from Greenpeace Canada. We look forward to seeing the new bulk food sections and further environmental initiatives this location takes.
Our second location was at Walmart, located at 1000 Taylor Avenue, Winnipeg, MB. We made our way through a sea of parked vehicles, with a serious lack of sidewalks and safe cycling infrastructure throughout. Nonetheless, we entered and were immediately overwhelmed by the amount of packaging. It seemed that nearly everything we saw was pre-packaged in unnecessary plastic.
Being at Walmart did force us to consider the different customer-base, with an emphasis on price and convenience, rather than sustainable packaging. We hope that Walmart will be able to make the transition to bulk, refillable, and reusable packaging options, without compromising those aspects that are most important to their customer base.
We decided to stick to the food section of the Walmart Super Centre, as we feared we would not have enough placards to tackle the rest of the store. Once we were finished, we made our way to customer service. Unfortunately, there was a lineup and the staff seemed quite overwhelmed. Once we made it to the front of the line, we expressed that we were hoping to speak to the store manager about plastic packaging and the transition towards more bulk, refillable, and unpackaged options. The staff did not want to engage with us, passing us along to several people before we were told that the manager was on break. A staff member called the manager, which advised us that we could only file a complaint online. We were also not allowed to leave our flyer or the letter.
It seemed as if the location had no authority to make improvements to their product delivery systems and it all had to be administered by corporate.
Our final location was Real Canadian Superstore, located at 550 Kenaston Blvd., Winnipeg, MB. The store was quite busy at 2:00 pm on a Saturday, so it was more difficult to navigate the store with the placards and take photos. We left several cards throughout the produce section, but were quite pleased to come across an expansive bulk food section. It ranged from candies, to nuts, to baking goods.
When we approached customer service, they called over the manager of the bulk foods section to have a conversation. The manager was very positive, very engaged, and wanted to know more ways to improve their location from a sustainability perspective. She expressed that they hear complaints from customers on this issue ALL THE TIME and this area is ready to make the transition and expand their offerings. Although this was positive, it was brought to our attention that corporate was looking to take out some of their bulk food section to put in place additional packaged items.
It is evident that individual locations only have so much authority on these issues.
Superstore also had reusable produce bags for sale and was partnering with the FlashFood App to reduce food waste. The bulk food manager was happy to take our flyers and letter from Greenpeace Canada.
Overall, it was a valuable experience for our team to have a more in-depth understanding of the systems in place which are contributing to our plastic crisis. It appears that many of our local managers are knowledgable, environmentally-minded individuals, however, they are unable to implement a lot of the changes they want to because of manufacturers and and corporate entities, which they are a part of. It is clear that these issues need to be solved at the top, and if we take enough action across the country, our message will reach the top.
If you'd like to get your hands on some placards to place in your local grocery store, come out to our next organizing meeting and upcoming events.
Stay tuned as Greenpeace Canada releases their report!
FIt is no secret that plastic pollution is one of the major environmental issues of our time.
It is an issue that cannot be solved by recycling, compostable plastics, and/or paper packaging. Although these solutions may seem promising, unfortunately, the root issue is single-use and disposable packaging, which is not addressed by any of these.
Recycling - In Canada, only 9% of our plastic waste is sent to recycling facilities. The remaining waste ends up in land-fills (86%), incinerated (4%), or in the environment (1%). The 1% in our forests, and lakes, and animals may seem like a small percentage, but when you consider that 3 million tonnes of plastic waste in produced in Canada annually, it is a BIG problem.
Compostable and Paper Packaging - Industry-led solutions risk shifting the problem to forests and agricultural land, which would be extracted for valuable resources, only to be used for disposable packaging.
The solution is to reduce production of disposable items at the source.
It is essential for large manufacturers and retailers to innovate in order to get products to consumers in a way that eliminates the need for disposable packaging. Most of the solutions are already being used in bulk shops, zero-waste stores, farmers markets, and local groceries; they just need to be scaled to meet the needs of large manufacturers and retailers.
These product delivery solutions can include, but are not limited to;
It isn't only grocery stores and retailers that play a role in changing these product delivery systems, as we must also consider manufacturers.
There are many multinational manufacturers of consumer products, such as; Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, who have more than enough money and resources to drive innovation and change these systems. Although some are making strides to test filling stations and limit packaging, they are not doing nearly enough to ditch their disposable models.
So what is stopping retailers and manufacturers?
Many suggest that the packaging they provide helps to maintain hygiene. However, a recent study published by the American Society of Microbiology found that bagged salads provide the ideal conditions for salmonella. Furthermore, many fresh foods don't require any packaging, as they come wrapped in their own skin, such as; oranges, bananas, corn, avocados, etc. Under the right conditions, most food can be safely transported and consumed without the single-use plastic packaging.
Retailers and manufacturers have also pointed to the risk of cross-contamination for persons with allergies as a reason to maintain the current systems. To mitigate risk, retailers can focus on reducing food handling, for example, pre-packing bulk products in returnable/reusable containers to avoid cross contamination.
Most of all, retailers and manufacturers are not taking action to change their systems because the are not feeling consumer pressure. That is exactly what we are going to do with our #ReuseRevolution campaign. Find information about the event here.
To learn more about how retailers can implement these solutions for the supermarket of tomorrow, visit act.gp/smartsupermarket.
Hi, I'm Nicole. I work as a sustainable transportation project coordinator at a local environmental non-profit. I am keen on photography, cycling, eating delicious food, tending to my plants, and helping the environment.