Some Trash.

Written By: - Date published: 11:52 am, March 1st, 2018 - 27 comments
Categories: business, Conservation, Europe, International, spin, sustainability, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags:

This sounds quite good at first blush

In the Netherlands, Ekoplaza will roll out plastic-free aisles across its 74 branches by the end of this year.

But does “plastic free” incorporate the entire supply chain? Are the pallets that the goods are loaded on shrink wrapped to move them from factory to warehouse, and from warehouse to supermarket? What about the glass, metal and cardboard that food is packaged in? Is it all manufactured and transported sans plastic? Has anyone worked out whether Ekoplaza’s shift to non-plastic packaging for supermarket shelf items might entail the use of more plastic throughout the supply chain?

Or is the whole thing basically a marketing ploy, and really not much better than someone removing all plastic from packaging as they stack the shelves?

Paint me cynical, but nice sounding half measures have the wonderful ability to lull us into a space where we think something worthwhile is being done, when really, nothing much beyond “business as usual” is going on…with the caveat that pressure to instigate meaningful change has been dampened.

I’ve worked in a few factories in my time, and am aware that the use of extraneous plastic in factory settings (including, or maybe even particularly in food manufacturing) is enormous. And so the percentage of plastic present at the point of sale is arguably the merest tip of a hulking berg of shit.

So yes, nice to buy “plastic free”, and if vacuous virtue is our bag (paper, hemp, cotton or leather of course) then my, what a wonderful world.


27 comments on “Some Trash.”

  1. Booker 1

    Take the win! Less plastic is better than more plastic, even if it isn’t plastic free.

    • Siobhan 1.1

      The danger is people being lulled into thinking ‘I’m doing my bit’ ‘I’m an ethical shopper’ and not realising the issue is not in actual fact being dealt with.

      In my shop we use brown paper bags which everyone is thrilled by…until I point out that brown paper bags tend to only be used once, get sent to the dump, and apparently take forever to decompose in the airless environment.

      Ofcourse one customer in 50 will claim to reuse bags for something nice, but that’s not the usual.

      • weka 1.1.1

        The movement is aiming for a ban in single use plastics. The more advances that get made on this the better. The solution to the lulled thing is to increase awareness not minimise the gains.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Bill’s right though: it still has to be something that occurs at board level as well as retail level.

          I bet if I Google it, it’ll turn out that there’s a campaign to bring boards on boards too.

          • weka

            “it still has to be something that occurs at board level as well as retail level.”

            I think that’s so obvious as to be redundant.

            If govt’s ban single use plastics, board will be obliged to change.

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              Redundant? The premise is that it isn’t happening, that it’s a greenwash.

              If this government bans ‘single use plastic’ (ie: at the retail level) in the course of this Parliament, I’ll be surprised. How would that address the ubiquity of plastics in the circumstances Bill mentions?

  2. AB 2

    Huge supermarket chains with long, complex supply chains, centralised warehousing and inventory management, moving huge quantities of product long distances and an obsession with eliminating waste and cost from those supply chains.
    That seems to me like a recipe for lots of plastic packaging for efficient handling, data management, storage and minimising damage and spoilage Maybe it’s the very existence of companies like EkoPlaza that is the problem?

  3. weka 3

    The building and farming industries are other places to look at plastic use too.

    “So yes, nice to buy “plastic free”, and if vacuous virtue is our bag (paper, hemp, cotton or leather of course) then my, what a wonderful world.”

    Take a look at the Pacific Gyres. This is not ‘nice’ to buy plastic-free or vacuous virtue. Plastics pollution is a massive problem, and consumer end use is a big part of that.

    I’m sure supermarkets are still protecting their bottom lines, but that doesn’t mean that these gains aren’t useful both in their own terms and in terms of the politics e.g. if we get enough businesses on board it will be easier to ban single use plastic and then move on to the next thing. So even if Ekoplaza are doing this solely as a marketing ploy (which I remain doubtful of), it’s still useful as part of the whole movement. It’s only a risk as a half measure if we remain unaware of the politics, or if we minimise the gains.

    Plastics activist Tina,

    of the 430,000 plastic bags NZ supermarkets put out every week most get 20mins avg use before being thrown out and about 25% of that winds up in the ocean.

    Tina also blogs on the environmental and social justice issues around plastic at


    • Bill 3.1

      No idea where the notion that anything in the post is minimising the issue comes from. The vacuous virtue is when we buy something labeled as plastic free and think ‘’job done’’. Plenty of us in that boat.

      • weka 3.1.1

        speaking for yourself there I guess. Lots of people I know take plastic free seriously.

        “No idea where the notion that anything in the post is minimising the issue comes from.”

        The framing. That is how it came across.

        • Bill

          Not speaking for myself at all Weka. Merely trying to identify where the mis-reading occurred that you would think the post to be an exercise in minimisation.

          • weka

            “The vacuous virtue is when we buy something labeled as plastic free and think ‘’job done’’. Plenty of us in that boat.”

            Sorry, I thought you were including yourself in that, and I was pointing out that there is a whole movement of people who avoid plastic use where they can and that isn’t vacuous virtue because they understand the scope of the problem and the politics involved.

            Re minimising, the post is raising an important point i.e. are big businesses greenwashing around plastic but basically avoiding doing something meaningful. We don’t know with this supermarket, but the supply chain issues are good to cover.

            What came across as minimising was the framing, e.g. “And so the percentage of plastic present at the point of sale is arguably the merest tip of a hulking berg of shit.”

            Whereas my understanding is that consumer end plastic reduction is critical. Juxtaposing them to suggest that one is the tip of the iceberg suggests that the other is the important one, thus shopping bags aren’t that big a deal.

            and “So yes, nice to buy “plastic free”, and if vacuous virtue is our bag (paper, hemp, cotton or leather of course) then my, what a wonderful world.”

            which presumably refers to people who aren’t aware or who are shallow, but then you included yourself so it was confusing. Either way, it’s still useful for the plastic-free moment if people change at that level and again, plastic shopping bags are a big deal and there is political use in having supermarkets make changes even if that doesn’t solve the whole issue.

            • Bill

              ‘Us’ as in ‘humanity’. Could have used the more divisive ‘people’, but consciously didn’t.

              • weka

                right, but I’m still pointing out there is a whole movement of people who specifically aren’t included in that and who are actively trying to change it.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Off-topic, I know, but why (or how) is “people” divisive?

                Just a request for information. Not a challenge.

      • patricia bremner 3.1.2

        Just as we faithfully recycled, to find our rubbish overseas causing misery.

  4. weka 4

    From that Independent link,

    The aisle will be used to test out new compostable bio-materials, as well as using traditional materials including glass, metal and cardboard, the scheme’s backers said.

    There are some problems with bio-materials. One is that many aren’t compostable via normal means, but need an industrial composter. Which means you need another waste chain to deal with that. Unless that has been set up, I can’t see how they will be testing that or how it would work at that scale.

    The other issue is that bio-plastics aren’t recyclable and are a contaminant in the plastics recycling waste stream.

    Another is that there’s a level of dishonesty about what biodegradable and degradable means. In NZ, the bio plastics shopping bags are usually degradable not biodegradable, which means all they do is break down into tiny pieces of plastic that humans can’t see. And afaik they need sun exposure to do that, so in a land fill they just stay relatively intact.

  5. Kat 5

    Some of us have been anti plastic for longer than you think. I remember when milk started turning up in cardboard rather than glass, and it was no longer street delivered. All in the name of “convenience”. There are obvious benefits to some forms of plastic that appear in specialist equipment (medical) and engineering (bearings etc) to name a couple but the global production of everything from drinking straws, cutlery, shopping bags, rubbish bags and packaging is where the problem lies. We need to get over this “convenience” mindset. But then it is often easier to change the system rather than peoples mindsets. Until specific law is passed banning the production and use of “convenience” plastic then it can only be left up to natural attrition to effect change.

  6. feijoa 6

    Maybe it is an opportunity for NZ food producers to really look at going plastic free. How, I don’t know. Cheese I think , would be difficult. Maybe a return to old style grocers and delis where they slice off the big round of cheese and wrap in paper.

    Personally, if I can buy anything in glass or paper, I do
    Mayonnaise in glass, tomato puree in glass, etc

  7. Stuart Munro 7

    It’s a step in the right direction even if it may not be the only step needed. Corporates need the odd nudge to behave responsibly. If they take the hint they can find a surprising number of ways to reduce their plastic use. And if not consumer boycotts can encourage them.

  8. JohnSelway 8

    I actually lost my shit and told someone off at the supermarket today. She bought a single item and asked for a bag. I was behind her and was having none of it.

    Yeah…I’m that guy now it seems

  9. weston 9

    i find its hard feeling anything but a heavy dose of pessimism thinking about the plastics problem its on everything around everything and those who congratulate themselves cause they take their own bag to the supermarket are prob still buying and using gladwrap to name but one product depended upon by us consumers . If the plastics industries were an aircraft carrier we would be water boatmen hopelessly struggling in its wake feebly waving our little oars !! I suppose the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step but using the prior analogy we could expect things to get a lot worse before they get better cause aircraft carriers take a long time to slow down im not even sure if they have a reverse ?!!

  10. … ‘ Being anti-plastic is all the rage these days. How might business respond? ‘…

    With more plastic , half of them are plastic people anyways… they have a natural affinity for the stuff.

  11. R.P. Mcmurphy 11

    make people wash their hands and reintroduce paper bags. The whole supermarket thing will have to be re-engineered in the future. as it is plastic bags are a pander to the self importance of the sovereign consumer by promising convenience.

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