Plastic free supermarket aisles? Can we change the world by how we shop? In Conversation with Huw Thomas

Our ‘In conversation with Huw Thomas’ series is written by blogger Bethan Williams, alongside PMC. Based on conversations with our Managing Director, Huw Thomas. Bethan is an anthropology graduate turned dance teacher turned blogger and writer. This series takes snippets of the conversations between Huw and Bethan, where their interests and areas of knowledge overlap, and turn them into pieces which are relevant to retail and business in general.

I had to buy a 5p carrier bag from the supermarket the other day. Despite having taken my back pack, I got carried away (if you’ll excuse the cheap pun!) and needed some extra space. And I was filled with so much guilt!

Not only because I was now the shameful owner of a flimsy, environmentally disastrous piece of plastic which is near impossible to get rid of, but also because it drew my attention to all the other flimsy bits of plastic floating around among my purchases. Packaging, packaging, packaging everywhere!

A few days later I found myself reading ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’, a Government document recently released. While I found their rhetoric stirring the policy promises were a little fluffy. Nevertheless, some of the proposals aimed at cleaning up production, food waste and consumer society are promising.

I was particularly intrigued by the idea of ‘Industrial Symbiosis’; pairing companies, whose industrial processes produce waste, with others who can use that bi-product as a raw material. Conscious recycling on an industrial scale!

They commit to zero avoidable waste by 2050 and eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. These actions are, if anything, a little too late (the earth, sea and atmosphere are at breaking point now) but it’s nonetheless positive to see plans being put to definitive timescales.

Further to the long-term commitment to eliminate avoidable waste altogether, there are a few interesting and quite exciting short-term proposals. These include removing all single use plastic items from Government buildings and extending the current 5p carrier bag system to small retailers as well as the large ones. Most excitingly perhaps are the promises of plastic-free supermarket aisles and a new nationwide network of free water bottle refill points.

Some small, ethically-minded retailers have been using the packaging-free model for years. Customers simply bring their own tubs, boxes and bags and take their goods pick-n-mix style from large containers. To see a system like this rolled out into large stores, making it accessible and convenient for people, is an exciting prospect.

Similarly, enabling people to find water stations and refill their bottles hassle free appears to be a simple but potentially environment-changing proposal, given that plastic water bottles are such a huge contributor to the pollution of oceans and land alike. The network would even have an app for people to locate the nearest refill point.

Here’s the crux. The report goes on to remind us that a large part of the onus is on us, as consumers and inhabitants of the state, to reduce, wherever possible, our plastic use and to choose wisely. Yes, I felt horribly guilty getting a 5p carrier bag and yes, it made me look harder at the staggering amount of plastic I had purchased for one person’s weekly shop. But my actions stopped there.
I still got the bag.
I still bought the plastic wrapped food.
My choices could’ve been so much better and hopefully next time they will be.

I believe we can change the world by how we choose to shop, and we begin by changing our habits just a little; by making better, more ethical choices.

Tweet, tweet!