The world’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle was unveiled in Amsterdam today as pressure to curb the world’s plastic binge and its devastating impact on the planet continues to grow.
With nearly 700 plastic-free goods to select from at one of the branches of Ekoplaza, a Dutch supermarket chain, the aisle gives shoppers the opportunity to buy their groceries in “new compostable bio-materials as well as traditional materials” such as glass, metal and cardboard.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of the environmental campaign group A Plastic Planet, which advocates for a plastic-free aisle in every supermarket, says the aisle is “a symbol of what the future of food retailing will be” and hopes it has a knock-on effect.
Sutherland says she recognizes that transitioning from plastic to other materials requires a monumental shift from big retailers, but that not acknowledging the need for change is no longer acceptable.
“We totally understand what we’re asking for is highly inconvenient – it’s difficult,” she says. “However, it’s indefensible for us to continue to wrap up our perishable food and drink in this indestructible material of plastic. So everybody knows now that progress has to be made.”
Ekoplaza, which has 74 stores across the Netherlands, says it will roll out the aisle across all branches as soon as possible.
Plastic is a constant presence in our lives wherever we go; it’s hard to imagine life without it. But the planet is paying a high price for our throwaway culture. From water bottles to disposable coffee cups, items that we use for just a few minutes can take up to centuries to decompose.
According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, by 2015 humans had manufactured 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, and of that, 6.3 billion metric tons had become plastic waste. Of that waste, only 9% was recycled and 79% ended up in landfills or the natural environment.
But the pressure to reduce waste and think more sustainably is rising, and governments are taking stock.
In August, Kenya introduced the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution, where Kenyans who produce, sell or even use plastic bags risk up to four years or $40,000 fines. British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would eradicate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
Richard Eckersley, a former Manchester United footballer, says he recently set up the UK’s first zero waste shop, Earth.Food.Love, with his wife in Totnes, southwest England. He says “plastic is an amazing material,” the problem is how we use it.
“So if we can eradicate it from our plates and from our shopping lists, we’re happy to provide that service,” he adds.
Customers at Earth.Food.Love are encouraged to bring their own containers and fill them up with up to 200 organic products – from dry foods to washing up liquid – which they then weigh and pay for at the end.
Eckersley and his wife have already helped other people who want to set up similar stores in Wales, Birmingham and Bristol, and they have also published a “Ten Steps to Setting up a Zero Waste Shop” PDF online to encourage more people to embark on their own adventure.
“Paper, card, wood pulp, grass, glass, tin, not plastic lined, aluminum. There’s so many other materials. There won’t be one thing that directly replaces plastic, it will be a plethora of things,” said campaigner Sian Sutherland, who believes the momentum is here to stay.