Supermarkets must speed up action over plastic and excess packaging

Date: Monday 12th August 2019

AS part of its action against single-use plastic and excess packaging, Extinction Rebellion Penrith went to Sainsbury’s and Morrisons supermarkets with banners and placards and leaflets, stood by the tills and offered shoppers the chance to have the excess packaging removed from their purchases, piled all the resulting plastic in a trolley and gave it back to the stores to take responsibility for.

Although the two supermarkets did not tolerate our presence for very long, on the grounds that we did not apply to do this via the proper channels, we would like to thank them for the courtesy, tolerance and patience they showed us while we were there.

We would also like to ask them to respond to the question of what happens next?

Sainsbury’s has stated on its website that it is to introduce a trial scheme where it will provide an area for customers to remove packaging and leave it for recycling. While we applaud the company’s proposal to take responsibility for excess packaging, this initiative will not actually reduce the amount of packaging being used.

Given that most packaging is not recyclable, we can assume that a lot of it will go to landfill or incineration, resulting in further pollution and climate problems.

For the record, in half an hour at just one till in Sainsbury’s, we removed 13 items of plastic from vegetables, nine from fruit, 15 from salads, six from multipacks of cans, 12 from non-food items, six plastic mesh bags from fruit and vegetables, 10 plastic punnets, two cellophane wrappings from flowers and eight plastic wraps from other foods.

At Morrisons, where we spent less time at the tills but more outside, the figures were 10 veg, seven fruit, six salads, three cans, nine non-food, seven mesh, 12 punnets, and nine other.

Just a quick snapshot but it does show the scale of the problem and the willingness of the public to divest themselves of unwanted plastic. In fact, at Sainsbury’s we had shoppers queuing at our checkout, and once we had to leave we heard that a number of people who were still shopping were upset and angry that the plastic unpack facility had been removed.

Supermarkets are making all the right noises and have begun to make changes.

In Sainsbury’s you can now take your own bags, whether plastic or paper, for fresh produce (although prewrapped items remain cheaper than loose ones, which is definitely sending out the wrong message), and take your own Tupperware-style box for deli items; while Morrisons says it aims to make all of its own-brand packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, will allow customers to bring their own containers for meat and fish, and is going to trial removing plastic packaging from fruit and vegetables from some of its stores.

Our message to them is to bring these measures in as soon as they can because their customers are clamouring for change and it is the right and responsible thing to do.


(For Extinction Rebellion Penrith)

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