We’ve known for years that the plastics we discard now can potentially remain on this planet for generations to come. With that knowledge, I have been trying to do my part to reduce my plastic footprint by switching to fabric shopping bags (and remembering to bring them), by using reusable containers for my work lunches, and by finding substitutes (or additional uses) for single-use plastic bags.
And then, despite my best intentions and efforts, I have weeks where I feel defeated when unpacking my shopping and seeing so many products entombed in plastic bubbles, with no offer of alternatives.
Just looking at recent weeks’ shopping, I have seen item after item that probably could have been served up in a bin like at a bulk food store.
I understand that these sturdy packages prevent breakage or leakage in shipping, and at the retail level they help in reducing shoplifting. Also, for some personal products, plastic is considered necessary to keep products clean and sanitary. But in doing a 360 degree turn in many stores, all I see is plastic, plastic and more plastic. It’s discouraging.
We need to rethink retail. Maybe we need things behind counters and hire actual humans to sell them to us rather than putting things in big blobs of indestructible plastic. For taking products home, are there other more eco-friendly materials than plastic bags?
Also, when it comes to clothing or fabric products, could everyone in the manufacturing, shipping, storage and retail chain get by with one tag and a more mindful use of plastic fasteners? I recently bought a throw for the sofa, to protect it from Ivy the Wonder Cat’s claws, and spent 10 minutes removing a multitude of tags and a ridiculous number of tiny plastic fasteners.
For fruits and veggies, rather than using the single-use plastic bags offered by grocery stores, I was prompted into looking for some neat little reusable mesh bags. When I found some, my heart filled with the thought of how many plastic bags I would avoid.
But is there a way of deducting the weight of the mesh bag from the weight of the fruits or veggies? The answer at the moment seems to be no.
At the first store, a major grocery chain whom I thought would have been on the bandwagon, I handed the mesh bag of apples to the clerk and asked if she could deduct 12 grams from the weight of the apples. I nearly got my head bitten off when she sharply replied “No!” When I asked if this major chain was looking into it to help reduce our plastic footprint, she replied with another short and angry, “No!”
There goes her nomination for employee of the month.
The apples were transferred from the mesh bag to the scale, the apples were weighed, and the apples were returned to the bag. It wasn’t horrible for a single transaction, but if my cart was loaded with small fruits or vegetables, this workaround does not make for a quick check out. I can see how a clerk might get stressed by the extra steps if there was a lineup.
At the second store, when I handed the clerk a mesh bag of oranges, the clerk was much sweeter about it. She apologized that the company wasn’t quite there yet, but she hoped that they would consider it in the future. She transferred my oranges from the mesh bag to the scale, she weighed them, and she quickly packed them back into the neat little mesh bag.
At retail chain number three, because there was no one behind me in line, the clerk did his very best to try to deduct the weight of the bag from the sweet potatoes, but despite his lightning quick typing on the computer’s keypad, he could not find the right keying sequence on the computer to do it. He apologized and I sincerely thanked him for the effort.
I challenge the retail industry to rethink packaging and plastics. I don’t doubt that it’s a complex issue and probably will have a price tag for the conversion, much like the consumers who have bought their fabric bags. But we need to start somewhere.
We need to find alternatives to plastic that are still respectful for the environment. If plastics are unavoidable, then perhaps we need better ways of cleaning discarded plastics to make them more viable for recycling or creating new ways of recycling.
For the predicament with plastic, there must be a lucrative venture in there somewhere for smart entrepreneurs.
As a consumer, I’m willing to continue making changes as I have already done. Along the way, I have found that concern for the environment and practicality do not need to be mutually exclusive.
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Have a great day,