shopping waste

Is there a mass unwrap near you this week?

Last year a coalition of anti-plastic groups in Cornwall hosted a ‘mass unwrap’. They went to the supermarket, bought their shopping and then unwrapped it all on site for the supermarket to deal with all the packaging. Several supermarkets in a number of towns were involved, highlighting the role of retailers in plastic waste.

After the success of that event, Surfers Against Sewage have picked up the idea and it will go national this week. There’s a map that you can check to see if there’s an event near you.

I think many of us have had to buy something and been annoyed at the amount of plastic packaging involved. Speaking for myself, I don’t really want to unwrap it on the spot and make a scene – and I suspect most of us feel that way. But doing it together, all at once, makes it an awareness raising event and a protest. Other shoppers can get involved. You can get it in the local paper. And it’s a good demonstration of consumer power, whereas individuals can always be dismissed as awkward customers. So if there was an event near me, I’d be tempted to roll up.

Having said that, the supermarkets find themselves in a difficult spot. They get the blame, and can lean on their suppliers to find sustainable packaging options. But the suppliers then blame the government, who have yet to set national standards to packaging and recycling – an issue that is holding back the whole recycling agenda in Britain.

As a recent episode of Costing the Earth explored, there are manufacturers out there who want to do the right thing, but packaging options that might be recyclable or compostable in one part of the country aren’t processed correctly in others. It’s a free-for-all at the council level, and until there are national standards it’s impossible to define sustainable packaging properly. It is on the to-do list, and features in the government’s recent waste strategy, but with no timings and little detail as yet.

That’s worth bearing in mind while targeting the supermarkets – it’s not entirely their fault. But since we can’t dump our packaging waste on Michael Gove, we might as well dump it on the supermarkets and let them complain to government. They’re more likely to get a hearing and tell the government to hurry up already, and in the meantime they can host more drop-off points for more unusual recycling.

On that subject, it’s sunny in Luton today and I strolled round the corner to the packaging drop-off point near me at Double S travel. They take crisp and biscuit packets, dispenser pumps, pet food pouches and dead pens, all off to Terracycle to turn into something new. You can find your nearest point here. There are only two spots in Luton for this kind of recycling, the other being the Tokko Youth Centre. Neither are the most convenient locations, and it would be great to see more facilities like these in supermarkets. Perhaps a mass unwrap or two would help to make that point.

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