Supermarkets and the Zero Waste Movement
Recently Tesco announced a Zero waste trial in 10 of its stores where customers will be able to buy some household goods in reusable packaging that can be returned to the store to be used again. This includes some Tesco own brand products and “big brands” like Persil, Carex and even Brewdog beer! Marks and Spencer is also trialling food refills in a small number of its stores, enabling customers to fill into their own containers, as is Asda. Morrisons announced it will remove plastic packaging from bananas, the second most commonly bought item from its stores, which is expected to remove around 45 million single-use plastic bags a year (or 180 tonnes of plastic) from Morrisons stores.
Other more common environmental initiatives of supermarkets include plastic recycling points outside stores, targets for % of recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging, and removing hard to recycle materials (e.g., PVC) from their own brand products. Where we live, small stores, particularly the Co-op have introduced some good recycling initiatives, alongside their wider community initiatives including food bank donations and regular donations to charities. These are organised by some fabulous local staff, and we do want to recognise this. However, it’s also true that many environmental improvements are still only found in larger supermarkets or superstores, and those who use smaller local supermarkets often find options for eco-friendly purchasing to be much more limited if not non-existent.
So, what do we think? Overall, we think these new initiatives are a great step in the right direction. Supermarkets have a huge role to play in mainstreaming eco-friendly products and behaviours and have the buying power to offer these at affordable prices (if they choose to do so). However, there is a long way to go! Supermarkets need to do much more mainstreaming of plastic removal across their ranges. If a supermarket can remove plastic from its bananas, why not across the rest of the ranges, and why not in the other supermarkets. And why do all supermarkets continue to introduce other ranges with single use plastic packaging rather than move to alternatives. Things are moving slowly but they need to move more quickly!
And of course, removing and reducing single use plastic in supply chains is just one part of the problem. Many of the big brand and own brand products in supermarkets, from cleaning products to toiletries and from sanitary products to condoms contain chemicals that affect our soils, water courses and seas and the animals and plants that live in them. They may also be harmful to human health. Even after water treatment, many of them still make their way into the natural environment. Phosphates in laundry and dishwasher detergent can cause eutrophication- a fertilising effect, triggering the widespread growth of algae that reduces the water’s oxygen and can harm biodiversity. Other compounds such as phthalates and parabens can harm animal health, for example, affecting growth and reproduction by mimicking the effects of hormones in mammals and fish. Nanoparticles (increasingly common in everyday items such as sunscreens) negatively impact on aquatic life. Many household products are not cruelty-free and even some of the mainstream eco-friendly brands are owned by bigger brands which routinely test on animals.
We have spent a lot of time reviewing the products we stock at Green Blue You to ensure they biodegradable and septic tank friendly, free from phthalates and phosphates, free from chlorine bleaches and from chemical deodorisers, and without synthetic dyes. None of our products are tested by animals and we don’t stock brands owned by bigger brands that undertake testing on animals. There are some great companies out there, and we ask hard questions of our suppliers to make sure we are satisfied with sustainability throughout the whole chain, and are transparent about any trade offs. Recognising that eco-friendly products can be more expensive we have worked hard to offer a range of products, from the more affordable to more premium organic products. We feel strongly at Green Blue You that adopting more eco-friendly buying habits is a journey. We support people to make small steps and switch the products they are able to.
So, in conclusion, it’s great to see supermarkets continuing to look at this, but they do need to ramp it up. And in the meantime there are some fantastic independents already doing a huge amount to offer well researched eco-friendly products, and help people to re-use containers and reduce packaging. From milk deliveries to fruit and veg boxes, to businesses like ours doing doorstep refills, zero waste food refill stores and many more. We hope these small independent businesses will continue to thrive well into the future.