Shoppers in the Netherlands will get the chance to visit Europe’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle on Wednesday in what campaigners claim is an turning point in the war on plastic pollution.
The store in Amsterdam will open its doors at 11am when shoppers will be able to choose from more than 700 plastic-free products, all available in one aisle.
The move comes amid growing global concern about the damage plastic waste is having on oceans, habitats and food chains. Scientists warn plastic pollution is now so widespread it risks permanent contamination of the natural world.
Earlier this year, a Guardian investigation revealed that UK supermarkets were a major source of plastic waste, producing 1m tonnes a year. And for the past 12 months, campaigners have been calling for all supermarkets to offer a plastic-free aisle.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, the group behind the campaign, said the opening represented “a landmark moment for the global fight against plastic pollution”.
“For decades shoppers have been sold the lie that we can’t live without plastic in food and drink. A plastic-free aisle dispels all that. Finally we can see a future where the public have a choice about whether to buy plastic or plastic-free. Right now we have no choice.”
“Plastic-free” sounds to me a lot like “smoke-free”, and probably likely to have the same kind of thinking behind it.
My bet is that far from “giving the public a choice”, they’ll soon be demanding plastic bans, and saying that plastic causes cancer, and children should be kept away from it.
I must say that there seems to be far too much plastic around. More or less everything I buy seems to be encased in plastic. In the past when you bought a pair of pliers or a piece of steak it would come in a brown paper bag, and maybe not even that. Now they both come packed in several layers of plastic, and all inside a cardboard box. And it’s a devil of a job to open them sometimes. I’ve even taken saws and hammers to some of the packaging, it was so difficult to open.
And I suspect it’s all Health and Safety regulations. I doubt if the manufacturers or producers want all the packaging. It has to raise the price of everything, and since there’s quite often a time cost in getting the packaging open, there’s a loss in value, when for example you have to do 100 kJ of work to open a package containing 80 kJ of food.
But “plastic” also has connotations of being nasty, cheap, and artificial. Plastics are new products that have hardly been around for 100 years, and some people seem to react to anything new by condemning it (a bit like when people started smoking novelty cigarettes 100 years ago, and lung cancer was blamed on them).
I’ve read quite a lot about plastic bottles and bags floating around in the oceans, sometimes apparently covering huge areas, like Sargasso Seas of Sainsbury’s and ASDA bags, and fish eating them or getting enmeshed in them. But plastics are made up of organic compounds – carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen – which must surely decompose over a few years or centuries or millennia. Pretty well everything else does.
But then I’m reminded of how I dug up some bivalve seashells out of shale beds on the Jurassic coast of Devon. They would have been 100 million or more years old. And they looked almost as good as new. How come nobody complains about the litter of seashells on the sea beds? Couldn’t the bivalves have been a bit more considerate than to have littered the Earth with shells that were as resistant to weathering as cigarette butts (which, as everyone knows, can last for all eternity). And what about all those dinosaurs leaving their bones everywhere? And, worst of all, the foraminifer whose tiny shells make up entire layers of chalk on the Kent and Sussex coasts of England? Isn’t that “pollution” too?
But they don’t see that as “pollution”. It’s only ever anything that humans produce that gets labelled as “pollution”. In fact, these people seem to think that everything humans produce is something that will destroy the “natural” environment. And furthermore they seem to think of humans themselves as a form of pollution.
Sitting behind all this seems to be an idea of a perfect and unchanging world into which us humans blundered, dropping ASDA bags and cigarette butts and beer cans everywhere, spoiling everything, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, ignoring God’s advice as usual. And hence the intense moral fervour that accompanies all their campaigns: they’re doing God’s work.