Plastic is the bane of the modern existence, filling up our streets and choking our oceans.
While some work to ensure that it doesn’t overtake us, there’s still a large group of influencers, particularly in the retail market, that simply refuse to care about the impact of plastic on our environment.
Certainly supermarkets are among them, and lately that has been getting very obvious.
Two large American supermarket chains, Sobeys and Whole Foods, hit the headlines online recently when two customers shared photographs of them practicing seriously excessive produce packaging. In one example, Sobeys had decided to sell pre-cut avocado halves, wrapped in shrink-wrapped plastic. In another, Whole Food was selling pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers.
In both cases, the supermarket had taken the produce out of nature’s own biodegradable packaging, its peel or skin, and then replaced that with something plastic, that wasn’t going to break down without a fight. Ridiculously, Sobeys tried to explain their pre-cut avocados in the following way:
“This product was developed for people who might be new to using avocados and for a little more convenience. It eliminates the guess work when it comes to ripeness and any challenges if you are not familiar with peeling and seeding a fresh avocado. The packaging is there to keep the fresh wholesome appearance and quality of the avocado without it browning prior to consumption.”
While some might see that as convenience, I see it as laziness. The skill involved in choosing a ripe avocado, or picking one that will ripen in just a day or two, is not rocket science. It’s something that anyone could learn in just a few minutes, and then perfect over one or two trips to the supermarket. Certainly, it does not require the avocado to be wrapped in plastic for display, and it does not require more wasteful plastic to make its way into our environment.
The Side You Didn’t Think Of
One thing, the pre-peeled and packaged produce did bring to the light was an argument that many had not thought of. For people with limited mobility, those living with disabilities, products like the pre-peeled orange aren’t wasteful at all, but the only way that they would be able to eat an orange unassisted. In the case of the avocado, we imagine the sheer volume of packaging would have made accessing the produce just as difficult as if it were in its ‘natural’ packaging, but certainly the orange does make a good point.
However, the real question is whether the environmental impact of that packaging is worth the convenience for the smaller market of individuals living with limited mobility. At the end of the day, people with limited mobility are not going to be the only consumers for products like these. We are a community of convenience consumers, and it’s likely that many people who buy these pre-peeled products will be doing so because of sheer laziness, as opposed to a legitimate need for the product. If there is a strong need for products that assist those with limited mobility in being more independent, the question to ask is: can it be done without the large volumes of plastic?
If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn't need to waste so much plastic on them. pic.twitter.com/00YECaHB4D
— Nathalie Gordon (@awlilnatty) March 3, 2016
Although it’s nice to be able to point fingers at our comrades over the sea and their lack of environmental awareness, Australia is far from exempt in this argument. In fact, Australia is just as bad as other Western countries, maybe even more so. Walk into any Woolworths or Coles, and you’ll see rows upon rows of packaged goods. From plastic wrapping to plastic bags, we have it all. Some chains even insist on double wrapping organic produce, so that it’s ‘easily recognised’ by consumers. It’s wasteful, stupid, and totally against the very thing that organic produce stands for.
But that’s the reality.
So here’s how you can help. Shop locally as much as possible. Buy reusable shopping bags, and use them. Refuse to support products, brands and supermarkets that excessively package their foods, both produce and otherwise. With a bit more global awareness, plastic can become something that we control, not something that overwhelms us.