That Sir David Attenborough is a living legend is beyond any reasonable doubt. But I think everyone has perhaps been a little surprised by the long-lasting impact of Blue Planet, which documented the damage inflicted by plastics on the oceans and its inhabitants.
The pervasiveness of plastics in the food chain – from field to kitchen – is now well documented and pressure is being applied to manufacturers, logistics businesses and retailers to find alternatives to plastic packaging or minimise their deployment of plastic in general.
The reason this topic is top of mind is that I spent time last week conducting store visits in Amsterdam – with a highlight being my first encounter with a branch of Ekoplaza, a leading organic supermarkets chain.
The Dutch retailer has embarked on what they describe as a “journey to plastic-free” and recently received global press coverage after launching a plastic-free aisle.
The store I visited proclaimed that it was selling nearly 1,400 plastic-free items, with each example called out through point of sale. This is an impressive endeavour and has been well received by the media and public alike.
It’s worth noting that the Netherlands is a country that has a very good approach to plastic already, with a deposit and reverse-vending schemes for plastic bottles in virtually every supermarket chain.
Stopping the avalanche
In the UK, it is Iceland that has laudably taken the initiative, standing out from the competition with some audacious goals on eliminating plastic from its private label range.
While I usually shy away from inviting state intervention, it really would be good if the Government – or even an industry body – could oversee the introduction of a more systematic and harmonised approach to encourage a consistent strategy across all retailers (and manufacturers) to minimise plastic use and maximise plastic recycling.
Otherwise, we are going to end up with a hideous mishmash like nutrition labelling and ‘traffic lights’ have become.
While such efforts would be welcome, it remains that case that the avalanche of plastic is mainly due to enthusiastic adoption by consumers and the evolution of distribution.
“We need proper industry-wide collaboration to create more substantial solutions”
Milk used to come in reusable glass bottles; ready meals didn’t really used to exist; and I’m 99% certain no one used to carry around bottles of water when I was a kid. Food was cooked from scratch or came in tins and jars. Water fountains were common in public spaces and pop bottles were given back to the pop man when he came around in his truck.
It is highly unlikely we can turn back time and put the plastic genie back in its bottle but I’m encouraged by the signs of innovation and progress shown by the likes of Iceland and Ekoplaza. But really, we need proper industry-wide collaboration to create more substantial solutions.
And all of us, as consumers, need to re-evaluate our own choices. As with issues like obesity, personal responsibility can easily and conveniently be forgotten.