Helen Martin: Supermarkets aren’t doing their bit in war on plastic

Graeme Corry was prevented from bringing his own containers for food to avoid using plastic by Tesco in Corstorphine. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Graeme Corry was prevented from bringing his own containers for food to avoid using plastic by Tesco in Corstorphine. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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WHILE technology made life easier for most of us, it’s impossible to gauge the number of jobs which were obliterated or reduced, everything from telephone operators, middle management secretaries, shop workers, bank tellers, bookkeepers, car production workers to journalists and compositors, book publishers, travel agents, transport staff – the list is endless, and still growing.

But it is the most prized example of how rapidly we can change the way the world works and revolutionise life across the globe, for better or worse.

Now the biggest challenge facing the entire planet is bringing an end to throw-away plastic before it destroys us. And that revolution could be even harder. It begins with one of the most powerful sectors on which we all depend – supermarkets.

Tesco in Corstorphine banned retired banker Graeme Corry from bringing his own containers to take home meat and cheese, and insisted they had plans for making packaging recyclable or compostable by 2025. That, dear Tesco, is too late. Anyone who watched the National Television Awards or Blue Planet will know deadly debris in the world has been building up for so long it’s now critical and threatening.

READ MORE: Green-friendly Corstorphine man told by Tesco not to bring own containers

Imagine a return to buying goods in greaseproof paper and paper bags; the implications of shorter shelf life, reduced choice, the loss of ready meals, no plastic carrier bags at all instead of a 5p charge, a return to recyclable glass and cardboard and papier-mache-type trays, more supermarket staff, fewer aisles of stacked shelves, more fresh food counters, a loss of supermarket profits, many closures and the revival of local shops.

It will mean a massive loss of jobs in the packaging industry for firms who can’t make the switch from plastics to environmentally friendly materials.

The economic impact could be terrifying – but at least we would still have planet Earth.

With hindsight, the economic impact of technology was also devastating for many, but not for those at the heart of it, industries who thrived as a result, others who found ways to work with it, build new, inventive businesses and provide new replacement jobs for those which had become obsolete.

READ MORE: Fast action on plastic pollution required, says Sir David Attenborough

The same could happen with supermarkets and packaging today if our best retail strategists, economists and environmentalists came up with the solutions and alternative ways of operating. Supermarkets have the power to demand bio-degradable packs from suppliers.

A consumer movement could drive that by following Graeme Corry’s example and demanding their own containers be filled. If that’s not allowed, how about a protest campaign day where people pass through the checkout, don a pair of sterile gloves, unwrap the plastic packaged foods to put in their own containers, and dump the nasty packaging waste so that each supermarket realises how much they create and how much more they’ll have to pay to dispose of it? Better still would be taking trade to local shops where possible.

Supermarkets are the major (though not the only) cause of today’s lethal, plastic menace, something that has enabled them to build superstores and helped them thrive at the cost of independent shop-keepers.

Yes, they make life so much easier for us, but their economic insistence of using so much plastic to be discarded, has to end.

It’s their responsibility, and they don’t have a decade or so in which to do it.

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