I went to my local supermarket to look at how much packaging is being used for fresh food. As a consumer I’m increasingly aware of the environmental impact of packaging, particularly plastic waste that ends up in the ocean, affects wildlife, and even ends up back in the food chain and in our bodies.
It’s great seeing a lot of the smaller businesses getting rid of packaging and it would be great to see more of the bigger businesses follow suit. Or would it?
Packaging helps to protect products and can help food to last longer, which helps to reduce waste, and, the thing to remember is that the carbon footprint of food is much bigger than the carbon footprint of packaging.
Looking at the strawberries on display I was reminded of one of the times I went strawberry picking. I filled a trug with strawberries thinking they would last me a few days but, even though they were kept in the fridge, the following day a lot of the strawberries at the bottom had gone off.
A number of packaging-free shops are popping up, and some long-established smaller shops such as Honeysuckle are offering a service where you bring your own containers and buy as much as you need. These smaller shops often source their food locally or pick up fresh food from the wholesale market daily so there isn’t so long between the food being harvested and going on sale. Farm shops are ideal too because the farmer can just harvest what is needed for the shop daily. But, the bigger stores usually have to transport the food a long way and they need food to have a longer shelf life.
Consider cucumbers. Unwrapped cucumbers are often un-saleable after three days, but using just under 2 grams of packaging they can stay fresh for up to 14 days. The packaging is also needed to transport products without damaging them. If you look at the infographic below you’ll see that the average UK household throws away 6.7 million tonnes of food a year. That’s a lot. Food waste wipes out any gains from reducing packaging. That goes for waste in supermarkets as well as at home. Buying too much food and then binning it is the worst outcome. As consumers, it’s important to buy the right amount of food and make sure we have the right storage.
A lot of what has got us into this situation is our demand for convenience and the privilege of having things like strawberries all year round.
It’s important to consider the supply chain. Even stores selling food with minimal packaging received the delivery of food in some sort of packaging. Eliminating that is virtually impossible. For the majority of the bigger stores an attempt to transition to package-free items would be a struggle.
So what’s the answer for us as customers wanting to reduce our environmental impact?
- Buy locally grown food that is in season (or grow your own).
- Put up with the inconvenience of food being out of stock sometimes rather than expecting a store to over-stock so that they can always meet demand.
- Avoid doing a big shop. Do smaller shops, plan your meals and try not to waste food.
- Do a good job of recycling any packaging you do get. Make sure it is made of recycled materials and then recycle it properly once you are done with it.
- Use reusable shopping bags and avoid putting loose fruit and veg into little plastic bags.
The desired result is a healthier environment and less use of single-use plastic. Being aware of the bigger picture and doing our bit helps us to live more conscious, healthier lives.
I’ve decided to challenge myself to do something every day for 21 days to show how living a more conscious life we can heal ourselves and heal the earth.
If you join me in the challenge please use the hashtag #consciousliving.
If you want a more personal and in-depth challenge that makes you question your level of consciousness and beliefs, join me on my 21 Day Conscious Living Challenge. It starts on the 21st of July and there are still a few places left. Are you up for the challenge?