Green Sky Thinking: To package or not to? That is the question!
by Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) The over-packaging debate was recently overseas reignited by a photograph of pre-peeled mandarins (naartjies) sold in plastic deli containers, alongside a succinct and to-the-point tweet: “If only nature could find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them”.
That these are easy-to-peel sumo mandarins makes for an even pointier jab. What’s more, the retailer in question was none other than Whole Foods, that American purveyor of the whole-food-and-nothing-but-the-food, so it’s no wonder the tweet raised a storm.
Quick to respond
To its credit, Whole Foods was quick to respond and swiftly removed the product from its shelves.
A spokesperson told Huffington Post: “A lot of our customers love the convenience of our cut produce offerings, but this was a simple case where a handful of stores experimented with a seasonal product spotlight that wasn’t fully thought through. We’re glad some customers pointed it out so we could take a closer look.”
In stark contrast, Berlin-based supermarket Original Unverpackt is packaging-free. Here, customers bring their own containers that are weighed and labelled before shopping. The weight of the containers is subtracted at the till, and people are charged for the nett weight of their groceries. To facilitate repeat shopping, container labels are designed to last so the weighing process doesn’t need to happen every time.
Traditional market shopping
It may sound novel but, ironically, it’s not that unlike shopping at a traditional market. Remember the days when we used to buy unpackaged fruit and vegetables that were weighed on site by a vendor, before taking home our fresh produce in a brown paper bag?
Now we buy convenience foods that save us time and supermarkets are only too happy to charge us a premium for the privilege of this “added value”. Yet while we may be able to absorb this small, immediate cost, there’s a much greater, longer-term, collective cost to our environment that is much harder to swallow.
According to Ecowatch, we throw away enough plastic each year to circle the earth four times. What’s more, 50% of the plastic we use is thrown away after a single use. And though recycling plastic might help us feel more virtuous, the reality is that we only recover 5% of all the plastic we produce.
No longer accceptable
So while packaging undoubtedly has a role to play, wasteful and unnecessary packaging — particularly plastic — is simply no longer acceptable.
Strategic consultant Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) brings a global perspective to the issue of sustainability, having lived and worked in London, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Cape Town. She contributes the monthly “Green Sky Thinking” column on sustainability issues to MarkLives.
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