The other day a clever person asked us a question:

  • “Do you know what has been the highest selling product in the supermarkets over the last few months?”
  • “Toilet paper?” we answered naively.
  • “No, plastic.”

The truth is that plastic has been King of the supermarkets for years now. If you have been to the supermarket recently, you will have seen this with your own eyes: plastic on the shelves, plastic in the baskets, plastic bottles, trays and cling wrap. Plastic around your bananas, or on top our your steaks, plastic wrapped around your biscuits, vegetables and soaps. Plastic, plastic everywhere and for everything.

It is simply all around us, just like the messages about how we should take care of the planet that don’t stop appearing in the large chain stores.

Therefore it is inevitable that we, like you, ask ourselves some specific questions: Why is there still so much plastic all over the supermarkets? What are big business’ arguments for continuing to use so much unnecessary plastic packaging?

So, in order to find the answers to these questions we got in contact with Isabel Vicente.

Isabel is an activist, author of the blog “The Gaia hypothesis” and driver of the campaign “Desnuda la fruta” (Naked fruit – in Spanish), a movement that started in 2018 pleading the supermarkets to stop using plastic.

There is no one better than her to speak to about the excuses the supermarkets use to continue using this sinister and damaging material.

Would you like to read what she had to say?


In the #desnudalafruta campaign you encourage people to take photos of all the fruit and veg they see wrapped up in plastic in the supermarket, and then get in contact with the supermarket asking them to stop doing this: What arguments do the big multi-nationals have for continuing to use single-use packaging and containers?

The excuses were as varied as the number of supermarket chains we asked. The most common were: that they were required to for hygiene reasons, that they contained organic products and the plastic was there to stop them getting contaminated, that it was what their customers asked for, and that it was to avoid food waste.

Of all the excuses and reasons you receive, what is the most surreal excuse you have heard a supermarket use for continuing to use plastic?

That they are required to package products.

Obviously, there is no law that forces supermarkets to do so, they should simply ensure that their products get to the customer in the best possible condition. I found this excuse a little strange because the same supermarket that assured us that they were required to package fresh products in plastic also sold fruit and vegetables without any plastic packaging.

On this plastic lobbying website they ensure that plastic prolongs the conservation of food, what do you think about this statement?

As the actual website says “One of the causes of food waste in developed countries is the lack of adequate packaging and transport solutions to maintain the freshness and quality during the journey from the field to the table”, but this has more to do with the refrigeration and the transportation than it does with the packaging. Plastic can deliver little in this area.

“Friends of the earth” published a statement in 2018 in which they show that plastic is not helpful when it comes to reducing food waste, and that on occasion it can even be the reason for which the food goes bad.

A straight forward example: Why would you go and buy a pack of six tomatoes packaged in plastic when you only need two? Buying in bulk or individually doesn’t only avoid plastic, but it also allows us to choose the quantity that is appropriate for each and every household.

Another recurring excuse is that plastic use is on the increase due to the current coronavirus crisis and that it is more hygienic to wrap food in plastic: Do you believe this to be true?

The Spanish department of Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenges published a guidebook clearly states that it is not necessary to add to the already high level of plastic use when doing the shopping or when visiting a bar, hotel or restaurant in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

These guidelines suggest it is preferable to use reusable products backed up with good cleaning and disinfecting measures, rather than disposable materials that increase the volume of waste and can contribute to the spread of the virus.

Has there been a supermarket that has changed its policy due to this campaign?

Months after the campaign began some changes were seen. Supermarkets that previously didn’t allow fruit to be weighed in fabric bags began to allow their customer to do so and even started to sell their own reusable bags. Others advertised that they were starting to sell more items in bulk, although this change hasn’t been so noticeable.

My least favourite change is when I see plastic bags replaced by paper ones. It’s not worth our while simply to exchange one material for another.

Whilst on this topic, even though supermarkets have started to take baby steps, packaged products (even fruit and vegetables) haven’t completely disappeared from their shelves, why do you think that is?

I have always thought that is it is to make quicker sales and in the quantities supermarkets want, whether it is what you actually need or not. If you only want 3 kilos of oranges, but there are only packs of 5kg available, in the end you will buy the bigger pack, even if you don’t end up eating them.

You also avoid the customer from having to stop, choose the products they want, weigh it and then take it to the check-out. If they are packaged you simply walk by and pick up whatever quantity they are selling, you shop more quickly without having to think much. This is one of the reasons why for the last few years I have preferred to buy my fruit and veg from the local grocery, that way if I need 5 potatoes I only buy 5.

In relation to this subject, a Sinplástico customer once told us: ”I don’t understand why sometimes it’s cheaper to buy 1 kilo of oranges in plastic than it is to buy them in bulk, when they are the same oranges.” The same thought has crossed our minds, so we are going to ask you this question: What reasoning do the supermarkets give to justify this difference in price?

Sometimes, the answer is in the origin of the products. Do you want cheaper oranges, in plastic that have travelled half way around the world or would you prefer those that are more locally produced?

I also believe it has something to do with what we were talking about previously. Fast sales, higher profits.

Not long ago Greenpeace published a ranking of the supermarkets’ plastic footprint and we saw that there is still a lot to do. What can we do, as consumers, so that there is not so much plastic in supermarkets moving forward?

It’s possible that we have forgotten about the many other places to shop, apart from just in the big chain supermarkets.

I acknowledge that it can be somewhat complicated, and that our busy schedules often make us want to buy everything in the same shop in order to save ourselves time, but the best way to demonstrate that we do not want the shopping model they give us, is to simply not buy what we don’t want them to sell.

Thanks Isabel for telling about your experience with #desnudalafruta (#nakedfruit in English)

If you liked this article, remember you can read the other 2 articles in this series “The whole truth” that we have published this Plastic Free July:

 

Tell us what you think?

Have you too found yourself having trouble when you try to do the shopping plastic-free? What products are impossible to find plastic-free in your local supermarket?

Tell us all about it in the comments section, we are all ears.

Well, all eyes actually 😉