Waging war on plastic... and it’s a fight we simply must win

Awareness about our unsustainable lifestyles is growing, but slowly, says Ailin Quinlan
Waging war on plastic... and it’s a fight we simply must win

The Sick Of Plastic Campaign, demanded that supermarkets take action to reduce packaging.

MOST mornings before starting work, I drop into the local shop to buy the paper and a lidded paper cup of their excellent takeaway coffee.

Then I get into my car, and as I drive, I never fail to notice the awful litter blowing around the rural roads which surround my home.

Sometimes, it’s the contents of bags of household rubbish which have been deliberately dumped there by people who, despite everything we’re told about the impact of dumping on the rural landscape, still don’t believe in paying for a garbage collection.

As a result, the bags are torn apart by the local wildlife and their contents — everything from used nappies to empty containers of milk or cleaning fluids — are scattered around.

However, I also often see empty disposable paper cups rolling around the road or clinging to the hedgerow after being thrown from a passing car.

It took me a while, but eventually, after seeing someone bringing a refillable cup to the coffee dispenser in the shop, I started doing the same. Now I bring the same rinsed-out paper cup to the shop every day to fill with coffee.

And yes, before you ask, I will eventually get around to bringing a proper, permanent, refillable cup. But, as I’d like to point out, at least I’ve made a start.

It’s only a small thing, but I felt inordinately pleased with myself for doing my bit for the environment instead of simply dumping a new, barely-used paper cup in the rubbish bin every day.

Awareness about our unsustainable lifestyles is growing, but slowly. The Twig Refill Store in the West Cork town of Clonakilty (https://theolivebranch.ie/twig-refill/) is blazing a trail for others in the retail sector who are interested in minimising the use of plastic and wasteful packaging.

At the Twig, customers are encouraged to bring their own bags or containers— or avail of the 100% cotton reusable bags and glass jars, to stock up with bulk buys of everything from nuts to dried fruit, apple-cider vinegar and olive oil.

The shop also sells lots of other things; refill chemical-free household cleaning products, shampoo and skin-care as well as a wide range of refillable containers such as coffee cups.

So, given my recent increased awareness of the issue, I was reassured to see that the Sick of Plastic campaign is still going strong — a year on from the nationwide day of action which saw thousands of shoppers leave their unwanted plastic packaging behind in supermarkets, campaigners are launching a new wave of action.

It began last weekend, and the idea is to keep on banging at the door to eventually convince supermarkets to stop the unnecessary use of plastic.

According to Claudia Tormey, spokesperson for the event, last year’s action really grabbed supermarkets’ attention, but, she adds, they still haven’t made sufficient lasting changes.

Everyone needs to keep up the pressure to force supermarkets to stop the casual use of plastic such as fruit and vegetables, she says, adding that hundreds of people have already signed up to shop-and-drop their plastic at the checkout.

In fairness, some big chains like Lidl and Supervalu have already made positive moves in that direction. Lidl is introducing more loose fruit and replacing the plastic bag on their Fairtrade bananas with a paper band, while Supervalu has provided bins in some stores for unwanted packaging.

But of course, others have done little or nothing, and, like Oisin Coughlan of friends of the Earth has pointed out, nobody has done enough.

Shoppers are trying to do their bit. Personally, when I do my week’s grocery shopping, I try to avoid plastic-wrapped goods wherever I can, and I’m careful about recycling. The problem is, there are so many things wrapped in plastic!

It’s only when you really become aware of it that you begin to realise just how much food is — often completely unnecessarily — wrapped in plastic. And yes, ‘Shop and Drop’ is a simple action for the public to demonstrate their demand for supermarkets to do more to reduce and phase out single-use plastics. But nobody’s deluding themselves that this is the long-term solution.

The end result is about forcing supermarkets to give shoppers the choice to avoid plastic.

It’s about offering more items without packaging, such as loose fruit and vegetables rather than the use of plastic trays, wrapping and nets.

It’s about manufacturing own-brand packaging that’s easily compostable or recycling.

It’s about shoppers demanding through the use of their purchasing power, that all the brands they buy have, yes, easily compostable or recyclable packing.

And it’s about buying in bulk where possible to cut down on packing and also putting plastic-free aisles in place, something which has been successfully done in the Netherlands.

Visit www.changex.org/ie/sickofplastic to get started and see the list of groups signed up already!

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