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Editor's comment: Food shops must use less plastic

PUBLISHED: 08:30 28 February 2019

Camden Greenpeace get ready to return their shopping trolley full of plastic to Sainsbury's. Picture: Camden Greenpeace

Camden Greenpeace get ready to return their shopping trolley full of plastic to Sainsbury's. Picture: Camden Greenpeace

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Camden Greenpeace has Sainsbury's bang to rights over single-use plastic.

Buying loose fruit and veg, and shopping locally at retailers where you can buy dried goods in bulk, are great ways to cut the amount of plastic we use.

But many people rely on supermarkets for price and convenience and that’s unlikely to change, especially as austerity drives more and more down to the bread line.

So I believe it’s incumbent on the biggest shops – the ones that make the most profit from the food industry – to lead the way in using more sustainable packaging. Or, even better, in using less packaging altogether.

We cannot keep burning and dumping non-recyclable, single use plastics by the tonne, and we cannot rely on consumers to drive change – asking families to shop differently, separate their recycling more accurately, and so on. We all can and should do our part, but business and government between them have the power to shape the choices we all make, and to do it quickly. The important thing is that we pollute less as a nation and a planet: it doesn’t matter whether we get there through educating and appealing to shoppers, through market forces, or through regulation.

I was proud and delighted to see Thornton’s Budgens in Belsize Park introducing a plastic-free zone last year – the shop’s Cut Plastic Out campaign puts Sainsbury’s to shame.

I don’t mean to single out Budgens, because doing something is better than doing nothing, but I was less delighted to see meat and dairy products among the plastic-free range. Putting unsustainable products in sustainable packaging is greenwashing. Research led by Oxford University last year found the most sustainably produced meat and dairy were still worse for the environment than the most wastefully produced fruit and veg.

As the war on single-use plastic becomes a cause célèbre, we must remember there are other, less glamorous campaigns to be fought.

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