How green is my supermarket?

What can I say? The only reason there are so many ‘green’ posts one after the other is that one can scarcely switch on radio or television, or even turn the pages of a magazine or newspaper without seeing something about it. So, why not, I say?

Picking up where I left earlier, Sainsbury’s got much favourable press for ‘doing their bit’ with the Anya Hindmarch bag. A ‘green card’? Really? I do wish journalists would read company press releases! Sainsbury’s website tells us that the bag was made available in limited numbers in the UK and no more shall be made available. Limited time availability in small numbers! Now that is what I call commitment, don’t you agree?

So, clever PR gig? Yes. Strategic move for solid environmental credentials? Er, no.

Sainsbury’s has since announced that for one day – which happens to be today, 27th April 2007 – they will observe a no-plastic-bag day. Customers will apparently be given reusable bags, otherwise costing 10p, for free to encourage them to, well, reuse them. My local Sainsbury’s is so dismal that I cannot garner the courage to get out and test this, even when I do need some tomatoes.

Now where Sainsbury’s comes, can Tesco be far behind? (Sorry, Percy!)

Over on my other blog, I earlier wrote about Tesco’s ‘green labelling‘ initiative. On customer incentives, Tesco is still rewarding its loyalty card holders randomly – you get 1 green point per reusable bag they offer, but sometimes 3, sometimes 5 and sometimes ZERO green points, which happened to me on the past weekend, for using any other bag that may actually fit your shopping.

Waitrose with its elegant bags – at least until 2003, customers were given 4-6 regular bags and 1 cool bag for free when they registered their Waitrose card in a store – remains top of this shopping bag malarkey league table, in my opinion.

No store as yet is bold enough to penalise customers for using plastic bags. That would be a move to watch, and one that might show they are serious about all this greening business, beyond the occasional PR by-line.

Today, however an interesting story emerged. It tackles a different end of the supermarket supply chain. The economy-priced supermarket chain, Asda, is reacting to staff and consumer concern about excessive packaging used in their products. They are asking their customers to return all packaging – cardboard, foil, plastic – to containers outside some stores. The returned packaging will be analysed to see which products are over-packaged, and suppliers then asked to work on alternatives which use fewer materials. That, to me, sounds like potentially a more sustainable solution than relying entirely on consumers remembering to bring their shopping bags along all the time.

Earlier Asda had also announced an initiative, hailed by many as a return to old style retailing, to remove packaging from fruit and vegetables. Considering an estimated (by Asda) 60% of fruit and vegetables sold by supermarkets is plastic-packaged, such a change could make a significant difference. I don’t shop at Asda so I cannot talk of my experiences, but if any of my readers do, please do share your experience with us all. Thanks.

Meanwhile I have two quandaries (in addition to that puzzle about why Tesco cannot seem to roll out a uniform ‘green points’ reward scheme):

1. Why can’t we have paper bags in our supermarkets like they have in the US? (I have used them at chains like Star Market as well as Whole Foods, so it is not a ‘premium’ solution..)

2. Why do all newspapers seem so eager to claim as a ‘result of our own campaign’ any and all strategic and tactical green initiatives by industry players?

8 thoughts on “How green is my supermarket?

  1. Hey, Shefaly.

    Yeah, over here in Santa Cruz we use cotton bags, Trader Joes and other stores, including my local (not a chain) supermarket offer them. Paper bags work if you recycle them, though it probably consumes less waste to use cotton. At my home, the paper bags serve as kitchen bins for dry (plastic, cans, paper, plastic bags) recyclables.

    -Noah

    Like

  2. Hey, Shefaly.

    Yeah, over here in Santa Cruz we use cotton bags, Trader Joes and other stores, including my local (not a chain) supermarket offer them. Paper bags work if you recycle them, though it probably consumes less waste to use cotton. At my home, the paper bags serve as kitchen bins for dry (plastic, cans, paper, plastic bags) recyclables.

    -Noah

    Like

  3. Hey, Shefaly.

    Yeah, over here in Santa Cruz we use cotton bags, Trader Joes and other stores, including my local (not a chain) supermarket offer them. Paper bags work if you recycle them, though it probably consumes less waste to use cotton. At my home, the paper bags serve as kitchen bins for dry (plastic, cans, paper, plastic bags) recyclables.

    -Noah

    Like

  4. Noah, thanks. Actually you are right. Cloth bags would be the best. Anything would be better than our plastic bags.

    As I have lamented often our supermarkets are acting a tad shorter term than that. One could argue that nothing stops us from using our own bags – which I do – but in the absence of personal initiative, the incentives fail to make more ‘converts’.

    The Waitrose bags I often mention are some sort of plastic, admittedly, but sturdily built, hence durable. I do not envisage having to replace them for the next 7-10 years. They also don’t need to be washed, as they can be wiped clean in case of a tomato or egg incident.

    In the neighbouring Ireland (Republic of) they managed to reduce plastic bag use by imposing a sort of plastic bag tax, a clear disincentive. However in the UK we are relying on supermarkets to take the initiative and somehow punitive measures are harder to impose on customers than they are on citizens.

    Thanks for sharing your view.

    Like

  5. Noah, thanks. Actually you are right. Cloth bags would be the best. Anything would be better than our plastic bags.

    As I have lamented often our supermarkets are acting a tad shorter term than that. One could argue that nothing stops us from using our own bags – which I do – but in the absence of personal initiative, the incentives fail to make more ‘converts’.

    The Waitrose bags I often mention are some sort of plastic, admittedly, but sturdily built, hence durable. I do not envisage having to replace them for the next 7-10 years. They also don’t need to be washed, as they can be wiped clean in case of a tomato or egg incident.

    In the neighbouring Ireland (Republic of) they managed to reduce plastic bag use by imposing a sort of plastic bag tax, a clear disincentive. However in the UK we are relying on supermarkets to take the initiative and somehow punitive measures are harder to impose on customers than they are on citizens.

    Thanks for sharing your view.

    Like

  6. Noah, thanks. Actually you are right. Cloth bags would be the best. Anything would be better than our plastic bags.

    As I have lamented often our supermarkets are acting a tad shorter term than that. One could argue that nothing stops us from using our own bags – which I do – but in the absence of personal initiative, the incentives fail to make more ‘converts’.

    The Waitrose bags I often mention are some sort of plastic, admittedly, but sturdily built, hence durable. I do not envisage having to replace them for the next 7-10 years. They also don’t need to be washed, as they can be wiped clean in case of a tomato or egg incident.

    In the neighbouring Ireland (Republic of) they managed to reduce plastic bag use by imposing a sort of plastic bag tax, a clear disincentive. However in the UK we are relying on supermarkets to take the initiative and somehow punitive measures are harder to impose on customers than they are on citizens.

    Thanks for sharing your view.

    Like

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