Supermarkets – Don’t Make Us Pay More for Plastic Reduction

Use of plastic packaging in supermarkets

This is a post asking the major UK supermarkets to help their customers make ethical choices when it comes to single-use plastic reduction – by stopping it being more expensive to do so.

Before I get stuck into the details of my issue with Sainsbury’s as the example, I do want to point out that a key reason I tend to shop there is because they do a generally good job of making lots of ethical choices available.

When it comes to buying Fairtrade products, Sainsbury’s are one of the leaders in offering lots of choice and making those ethical choices easy to find. Unlike Tesco, Fairtrade bananas and coffee seem to be pushed as the default choice, while you also tend to find recycled toilet and kitchen roll well-placed and in good supply.


Buying Plastic-Free Should Not Be More Expensive

One area where all the major supermarkets, Sainsbury’s included, are disappointing me and other shoppers I know is in making multiple products that are (often heavily) packaged in plastic considerably cheaper than buying the same products loose.

As a would-be more ethical shopper, I have been increasingly conscious of my plastic consumption over the last 18 months or so in particular, and the recent Blue Planet 2 TV series has certainly put the issue on many more people’s radar.

The intent is there in many people to take some steps to reduce their contribution to plastic pollution where they can, but the reality is that consumers are price sensitive when it comes to their weekly shop.

A good example is tomatoes – a staple of many weekly shopping trips:

Sainsbury's tomatoes loose

£2 per kilo, which is noticeably more expensive than other options of standard tomatoes at £1.75 or £1.67:

Sainsbury's classic tomatoes in December 2017

Family pack of tomatoes in plastic packaging are cheapest

They are not so delicate that I feel the need to protect them with plastic armour, and they usually end up loose in the bottom of my fridge within a day or so anyway, whether I buy them in plastic packaging or not.

For those that want to package their fruit and veg together, certainly give them the option, and by all means make pre-packaged produce available for speed and convenience. However, please don’t make us pay more to buy plastic-free!

As the buyer, I want to be able to balance ethical choices with convenience, and having to add higher cost into this equation is annoying.

In many circumstances, I accept that, at least for now, certain ethical consumer choices are going to be more expensive because there are higher production costs involved. Buying organic produce is an example.

However, when it comes to choosing exactly the same product with or without plastic packaging, I want to choose plastic-free without paying for the privilege.

Sure, the supermarket may have to pay a bit more because we’re hanging around in the store longer selecting produce, and perhaps the packaging slightly increases shelf life. However, this is offset somewhat by the fact that you don’t have to pay for the plastic or the packaging process and machinery when it’s not used.


Alternative incentives for buying more while going plastic free

Of course, one of the reasons supermarkets will pre-package multiple items in plastic containers is that this encourages us to perhaps buy more than we would otherwise on that store visit. However, there are plenty of other instances where shops encourage multiple purchases – 3 for 2 deals are everywhere.

If you want to encourage me to buy 6 tomatoes instead of 4, 2 avocados instead of 1 and 4 tins of based beans instead of 3, why not just discount purchase in multiples to the same extent – whether or not I choose the pre-packaged bundle?

There are many people who will feel the same disappointment I do in the major supermarkets’ approach to packaging and pricing, and this, along with other ethical issues, is one of the reasons why many people are shunning the big chains in favour of local suppliers.

Supermarkets – please help us out in being ethical consumers and choosing plastic-free options – we may even buy just as much, while rewarding you with our loyalty!