Archive for the ‘Waste’ Category

Supermarkets. You gotta love ‘em.

(Hold on a second, you might think. Is this going to be a moan about flying food around the world and causing damage to the earth just because we feel like a few lychees now and again? Because we all know about that one – and anyway I’ve reduced my lychee consumption recently so he can piss off…………….)

It’s a good point, but I want to talk about much simpler things than that.

Firstly, plastic bags. Britain gets through about 8 billion plastic bags a year (1) – (from all shops, not just supermarkets. That might be quite a conservative estimate – some people say it’s up to 17billion, like Chris Huhne). Assuming a population of 60million that’s 133 per person. But babies don’t do too much shopping now do they, so a better measure might be per household. It’s about 324 (2). Just think what Blue Peter could make out of that many plastic bags! Oh we do like a good plastic bag.

But why bother? Seriously. What is there that we buy that we can’t carry in an ordinary bag – like a backpack or one of those nice wheelie suitcases that everyone has. Most people who are bothered will recycle their plastic bags from one trip to the next, which is obviously a good solution too. But really, who are we kidding? The vast majority of people who are doing a ‘weekly shop’ will be driving to the supermarket. According to the Department for Transport, car journeys accounted for 62% of visits to shops (that’s all shops, not just supermarkets) (3). If you drive to the supermarket and take your trolley to your car when you have paid, do you really need to put the food in bags at all?

Obviously I know why people want to use a bag. It’s easier. It’s convenient. Who wants to stand in a carpark for 2-3minutes transferring individual items to the boot when you can just lift them in in a few bags. Not to mention carrying them into the house when they get home, apple by apple.

So why don’t we all bring our own bags, re-used ones or backpack etc, when we go shopping? Because we don’t have to! They have plenty at the shop just ready to be used! Not to mention the huge inconvenience of having to remember to take a bag or two with us. (Would it really be that difficult to leave a bag in the car for shopping? Or add it to the list of things to remember………Keys, wallet, shopping list, bag!)

The solution? Get rid of them. Simple.
San Francisco has the right idea – they’ve decided to ban plastic bags in supermarkets and Pharmacies throughout the city (4). In April, Sainsbury’s in the UK did the same, giving out free reusable bags instead – but unfortunately only for a day (5). Ireland was way ahead of the game. In 2002 it decided to tax each plastic bag used (5). It resulted in a 90% reduction in their use(6).

While plans are being drawn up to ask Londoners to pay 10p per bag later this year (7) many bags offered by supermarket chains in the UK are now degradable. The Co-op introduced degradable bags in 2002 and recently Tesco’s have followed suit (8).

Great. Soon we will all be using either paper bags or degradable ones. But what’s the point? Why make something to use once that will then break down when you can have bags that can be reused for years? And anyway, when plastic bags degrade they are going to give off CO2. Wonderful.

Waste that degrades is still waste. And it’s waste that doesn’t have to be generated in the first place.

The second issue is much more simple. Open freezers and fridges. You know the ones – the chest freezers with the frozen pizzas in, and the open front chilled cabinets for veg and other things.

The question is obvious. Why not put a door on them? How much energy is being wasted by supermarkets trying to keep the produce cool without a door on their cabinets?! It wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of the store wasn’t heated and lit up like Guy Fawkes. But think about it. How hard would it be to put a door on them? And why don’t they have them in the first place?

George Monbiot (see links page), has asked just this question, amongst many others in his book “Heat”. His analysis and research is far greater than mine, so I will just quote a few facts from his book and advise you to read it for yourself.

Apparently, the reason for not putting doors on the freezers is that when they are opened and closed, the glass steams up so that you can’t see what is inside(9). That’s it. That’s the only reason. If anyone knows of another reason please tell me because I really hope that isn’t it. How pathetic is that? Again, it comes down to convenience.

When the supermarket chain Monbiot spoke to added doors to the top halves of the cabinets they cut their refrigeration budget “by around one quarter”(9). That’s some serious savings, just by adding a few doors. I know! Let’s put doors on all of them!

Oh I forgot. We can’t, they might steam up.

Supermarkets would save themselves a hell of a lot of time energy and money if they stopped supplying bags and put doors on freezers. But they won’t, because it just ain’t convenient.

1. Assumes things haven’t changed much since 2002 article “Planet Earth’s new nemesis?” – bbc.co.uk, 8th May 2002.
2. Based on approximately 24.7million households in the UK. 8 000 000 000 / 24 700 000 = 323.88664.
3. “Transport Statistics Bulletin”, 2005 – Dept. for Transport.
4. “Ban on plastic supermarket bags introduced” – Ben Quinn, The Telegraph,
5. “Sainsbury’s bans plastic carrier bags for a day” David Adam, Guardian Unlimited, Thursday April 19, 2007.
6. RTE news 1st July 2007.
7. ‘Bid to charge 10p per plastic bag’ – bbc.co.uk, 13th July 2007.
8. ‘All Tesco bags ‘to be degradable’ ‘ – bbc.co.uk, 10th May 2006,
9. “Heat – How we can stop the planet burning” – George Monbiot, Penguin Books, 2006.


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