A bundle of six small brie cheeses from Dealer Joe’s appeared to sum all of it up. Every 0.9oz wheel was encased in versatile clear plastic, certain collectively in a plastic sack, to be offered to Individuals who may carry it house in a single-use plastic buying bag, none of it apparently recyclable.
Supermarkets within the United Kingdom have a minimum of tried to scale back the greater than 800,000 tons of plastic waste they promote annually, beginning plastic bottle deposit schemes and ending gross sales of plastic baggage.
However American grocers, who serve a inhabitants practically 5 instances bigger, have taken comparatively little motion. Dealer Joe’s has promised to scale back plastic by 500 tons in 2019; Kroger stated it will cease giving out plastic baggage. But the unconventional modifications wanted to sort out the issue nonetheless really feel distant.
As a part of United States of Plastic, a brand new Guardian US collection on America’s plastic waste, we undertook an unscientific survey of 5 grocery shops in New York Metropolis – Dealer Joe’s, Entire Meals, the grocery store Fairway, the Korean grocer H-Mart, and the comfort retailer 7-Eleven.
No information seems to exist on how a lot plastic packing America’s supermarkets generate annually; would a stroll by the shops give us a way of the size?
Plastic, usually low-quality and unrecyclable, felt like the one factor extra ubiquitous than the meals itself – and it was prevalent in all places we shopped. H-Mart offered a single butternut squash in purple plastic netting.
At Entire Meals, whose complete enterprise relies on advertising and marketing sustainability, plastic-wrapped greens have been offered alongside laborious plastic containers bagged in plastic. Entire Meals additionally offered a plastic bag holding individually plastic wrapped salmon filets within the freezer part. In one other aisle, there have been plastic-lined juice packing containers with plastic straws wrapped in plastic.
Shops eliminated and changed nature’s readymade coverings with plastic – reminiscent of pre-peeled garlic cloves and de-husked corn encased in clear wrapping. At H-Mart, we discovered a skinned and halved butternut squash laid flush towards a foam board. Peppers from Fairway, sliced into odd shapes and robbed of their seeds, have been additionally cased in plastic.
All of the shops wrapped plastic round eggs and even hard-boiled and peeled eggs have been offered in plastic circumstances. Dealer Joe’s snuggled two fennel bulbs in a plastic clamshell. Excluding 7-Eleven, each retailer tucked child greens into inflexible plastic shells.
In lots of circumstances, the plastic was not recyclable. However even when it may very well be, historical past proves it most likely gained’t be: solely 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled. Plastic on the grocery retailer provides momentary comfort in alternate for a lifetime of bother – analysis has discovered the common plastic massive is used for simply 12 minutes however might take 450 years to interrupt down.
However, American supermarkets proceed carrying merchandise that use extreme and troublesome to recycle plastics within the identify of comfort, cleanliness, or particular person and child-sized parts.
This buying expertise felt like a stomach-turning psychological reckoning, because the disturbing photos of what occurs to our plastic as soon as we’re accomplished with it flashed by my thoughts: the post-mortem photographs of the juvenile whale who died of “gastric shock” after ingesting 88lb of plastic baggage. The rainbows of bottle caps which grinned by decomposed birds. The ocean turtle writhing as scientists pried a straw from its nostril.
Once we unloaded our haul, a rainbow of netting, clam shells, movies, baggage, circumstances and shrink wraps tumbled out.
Recycling felt like a joke, given the small mountain of plastic we purchased in only one $339 buying journey, or about half a month’s value of groceries for a center class American family. It made piecemeal modifications, like a bag tax or a straw ban, really feel like a watering can at a wildfire. As we left the workplace that day, an indication within the elevator marked the vacation: Earth Day 2019.
We wish you, our readers, to become involved. So tell us: what’s probably the most egregious instance of single-use plastic packaging you’ve discovered at your native grocery store, or elsewhere? Have you ever discovered an various? Ship us your ideas and photographs to: [email protected]