If you’ve ever attempted to venture into the world of zero-waste living, you’ve likely discovered what many others have before you: Supermarkets can be an astonishing source of waste.
It’s all but impossible to avoid plastic packaging when grocery shopping, even if you’re simply buying the basics. Plastic-bagged organic veggies, plastic-encased fruits and berries, meat packed onto polystyrene trays and cling-wrapped, and blocks of cheese in unrecyclable plastic wrappers. That’s not even venturing into the middle aisles, where the plastic chip bags, chocolate bar wrappers, cracker sleeves and soda bottles live. There’s simply no way around it: The amount of plastic packaging coming from our food purchases is wasteful, infuriating and, unfortunately, largely unavoidable.
First Major Retailer Making Moves
As boutique package-free grocery stores have begun to pop up worldwide — offering bulk products, unwrapped produce and environmentally friendly packaging alternatives to plastic — larger grocery store chains have begun to take notice. And in a landmark move, one corporation in the UK has taken a drastic step forward in the right direction — pledging to either eliminate or “drastically reduce” plastic packaging in its store-brand products by 2023 (for those of us who still feel as though the ’90s were 10 years ago, that’s only five years away!).
British supermarket chain Iceland made the announcement in mid-January, and their pledge has received widespread media attention and consumer approval. This is an absolutely massive commitment, as Iceland has more than 800 store locations across Britain. The environmental implications of this change will be huge, not only due to the reduction of plastic waste in all store-brand food items, but because having such a large-scale supermarket chain demonstrating so publicly that it can be done — and what’s more, they’re willing to do it — lights a fire under others to follow suit.
They’d be wise to do so. Iceland’s research into the issue suggests that 80 percent of consumers support a decision to go plastic-free. As zero-waste (or even environmentally conscious) consumers grow in number each year, the demand for minimally packaged products will only grow with them.
What Will Change
Among the changes that Iceland is exploring are paper-based trays for deli items and substituting a more sustainable alternative for produce items typically bagged in plastic. Over a thousand supermarket items will be affected by this new policy, with everything from crackers to frozen meals getting a green makeover.
If Iceland’s environmentally friendly move pays off and ends up attracting a greater number of eco-conscious consumers to their aisles, it’ll be a perfect example of how solid environmental policy not only benefits the natural world around us but can make good financial sense, too.
Now, the only question remaining is … who’s next?
Written by Madeleine Somerville