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.