How green is my supermarket (and other shopping)?

In my earlier posts on the matter, both here and on my other blog, I wondered aloud about whether, and when a leading store might have the gumption to impose penalties on customers for asking for plastic bags instead of rewarding them for re-using plastic bags or using their own shopping bags.

Earlier experiences with ‘penalties’ was the Republic of Ireland’s highly successful introduction of a plastic bag tax of sorts, which not only reduced drastically the use of plastic bags but also raised considerable revenue. Suggesting something like this in the UK when in the last 10 years of Labour, people have increasingly paid more and more direct and stealth taxes – and please don’t cite statistics to me, because I am making an experiential observation here about how prices of key goods have gone up and up although my shopping basket has not changed much – would have been political suicide for New Labour.

So we waited for the supermarkets and retailers to innovate. Many of them have long offered reusable bags, or ‘bags for life’ as Tesco calls theirs, including the Co-op’s fairtrade cotton bags for 99p.

But in punitive measures – as if going to Ikea is not punishment enough – last year Ikea in the UK reportedly started charging 5p per bag, reducing their use by 95%; Ikea now gives its customers biodegradable corn-starch bags for 10p… (Please do let me know when you have figured out that maths!)

Today Marks and Spencer has announced a trial run in Northern Ireland for their new plans to charge customers 5p for each plastic bag they take. The success of the trials may lead to national roll-out later in the year.

M&S is not the front runner in this but it is indeed a very interesting development.

Unless you particularly like Ikea’s meatballs or anything else in their value-for-money restaurants – you may not go to Ikea every other day. So the impact of their plastic bag charge is only felt by their customers when they are in the market for furniture or kitchen utensils etc, which is not everyday. But to M&S (or similar in your area), one might go more frequently. They have a popular, if somewhat pricey, food hall and they also do lunch products such as sandwiches. In other words, food is different from furniture.

The trial scheme in Northern Ireland should be one to watch. M&S’s customers are not amongst the UK’s least wealthy, so the outcome will depend on whether or not they are price sensitive to the 5p levy.

12 thoughts on “How green is my supermarket (and other shopping)?

  1. I would love to see something of this sort happen here. I cringe every time the cashier puts my stuff in those plastic bags, which they hand out so extravagantly. Yes, they can be recycled. But how many of us actually do that? Not even 2% probably.

    Charging the consumers for plastic, or even paper bags should be a good move, esp. by common grocery stores and super markets! I wouldn’t mind paying for it, if this will serve as a hindrance to its usage. Like you mentioned, not many of us would care if Ikea charges us. That’s the reason I feel that this move would be a greater success if small stores and gas stations, which we use frequently, were to implement it.

    Like

  2. I would love to see something of this sort happen here. I cringe every time the cashier puts my stuff in those plastic bags, which they hand out so extravagantly. Yes, they can be recycled. But how many of us actually do that? Not even 2% probably.

    Charging the consumers for plastic, or even paper bags should be a good move, esp. by common grocery stores and super markets! I wouldn’t mind paying for it, if this will serve as a hindrance to its usage. Like you mentioned, not many of us would care if Ikea charges us. That’s the reason I feel that this move would be a greater success if small stores and gas stations, which we use frequently, were to implement it.

    Like

  3. I would love to see something of this sort happen here. I cringe every time the cashier puts my stuff in those plastic bags, which they hand out so extravagantly. Yes, they can be recycled. But how many of us actually do that? Not even 2% probably.

    Charging the consumers for plastic, or even paper bags should be a good move, esp. by common grocery stores and super markets! I wouldn’t mind paying for it, if this will serve as a hindrance to its usage. Like you mentioned, not many of us would care if Ikea charges us. That’s the reason I feel that this move would be a greater success if small stores and gas stations, which we use frequently, were to implement it.

    Like

  4. @ Ruhi: The solution is to take your own bags; I do. It is rare for me to bring any plastic shopping bags home from supermarkets. Other shops, I rarely frequent. I abhor shopping in most forms, making an exception for books. šŸ™‚

    Penalties do not go down very well with customers. One of my neighbourhood corner shops started charging people 10p per bag and saw her business decline; then she changed and now gives out previously used supermarket bags. She misread her market. Most people walk into her store on their way home from the station and are unlikely to have shopping bags on them. Such customers will only get pissed off at the self-styled-keeper-of-all-things-green stance.

    Rewards only serve to change behaviour if they are finite and predictable – a combination that most supermarkets in the UK haven’t cracked yet.

    Making things easier always works, such as the John Lewis free bags, that I mentioned in the other post, which I have had since 1999. I had enough so I gave some to a friend of mine too.

    Mostly these things are also-ran and not central to the strategic agenda of the companies. Businesses need to be truly committed to green issues to take meaningful steps in this direction.

    Like

  5. @ Ruhi: The solution is to take your own bags; I do. It is rare for me to bring any plastic shopping bags home from supermarkets. Other shops, I rarely frequent. I abhor shopping in most forms, making an exception for books. šŸ™‚

    Penalties do not go down very well with customers. One of my neighbourhood corner shops started charging people 10p per bag and saw her business decline; then she changed and now gives out previously used supermarket bags. She misread her market. Most people walk into her store on their way home from the station and are unlikely to have shopping bags on them. Such customers will only get pissed off at the self-styled-keeper-of-all-things-green stance.

    Rewards only serve to change behaviour if they are finite and predictable – a combination that most supermarkets in the UK haven’t cracked yet.

    Making things easier always works, such as the John Lewis free bags, that I mentioned in the other post, which I have had since 1999. I had enough so I gave some to a friend of mine too.

    Mostly these things are also-ran and not central to the strategic agenda of the companies. Businesses need to be truly committed to green issues to take meaningful steps in this direction.

    Like

  6. @ Ruhi: The solution is to take your own bags; I do. It is rare for me to bring any plastic shopping bags home from supermarkets. Other shops, I rarely frequent. I abhor shopping in most forms, making an exception for books. šŸ™‚

    Penalties do not go down very well with customers. One of my neighbourhood corner shops started charging people 10p per bag and saw her business decline; then she changed and now gives out previously used supermarket bags. She misread her market. Most people walk into her store on their way home from the station and are unlikely to have shopping bags on them. Such customers will only get pissed off at the self-styled-keeper-of-all-things-green stance.

    Rewards only serve to change behaviour if they are finite and predictable – a combination that most supermarkets in the UK haven’t cracked yet.

    Making things easier always works, such as the John Lewis free bags, that I mentioned in the other post, which I have had since 1999. I had enough so I gave some to a friend of mine too.

    Mostly these things are also-ran and not central to the strategic agenda of the companies. Businesses need to be truly committed to green issues to take meaningful steps in this direction.

    Like

  7. She misread her market. Most people walk into her store on their way home from the station and are unlikely to have shopping bags on them.

    Was this an independent, corner store? If that’s the case, then I’m not surprised that the rule didn’t work. If a big chain of supermarket stores were to implement it, then the chances of success would climb higher.

    Businesses need to be truly committed to green issues to take meaningful steps in this direction.

    I agree! In fact, I can only think of two names here- Adobe (energy efficient buildings) and Starbucks (their new paper cups are supposedly more eco friendly)

    Like

  8. She misread her market. Most people walk into her store on their way home from the station and are unlikely to have shopping bags on them.

    Was this an independent, corner store? If that’s the case, then I’m not surprised that the rule didn’t work. If a big chain of supermarket stores were to implement it, then the chances of success would climb higher.

    Businesses need to be truly committed to green issues to take meaningful steps in this direction.

    I agree! In fact, I can only think of two names here- Adobe (energy efficient buildings) and Starbucks (their new paper cups are supposedly more eco friendly)

    Like

  9. She misread her market. Most people walk into her store on their way home from the station and are unlikely to have shopping bags on them.

    Was this an independent, corner store? If that’s the case, then I’m not surprised that the rule didn’t work. If a big chain of supermarket stores were to implement it, then the chances of success would climb higher.

    Businesses need to be truly committed to green issues to take meaningful steps in this direction.

    I agree! In fact, I can only think of two names here- Adobe (energy efficient buildings) and Starbucks (their new paper cups are supposedly more eco friendly)

    Like

  10. @ Ruhi: As things work in the UK, a bigger chain trying to do it would find their ‘initiative’ going down like a lead bucket. šŸ™‚

    In fact, small traders and shops in Modbury in Devon have banded together to declare their town plastic-bag-free.

    I think our corner shop lady did misread her market. She did have a wonderful initiative earlier which she has now resumed. She re-uses plastic bags from supermarkets and sometimes we customers bring her our bags so she can reuse them. Communities can get positive results but the way to initiate and spread the message is key.

    Like

  11. @ Ruhi: As things work in the UK, a bigger chain trying to do it would find their ‘initiative’ going down like a lead bucket. šŸ™‚

    In fact, small traders and shops in Modbury in Devon have banded together to declare their town plastic-bag-free.

    I think our corner shop lady did misread her market. She did have a wonderful initiative earlier which she has now resumed. She re-uses plastic bags from supermarkets and sometimes we customers bring her our bags so she can reuse them. Communities can get positive results but the way to initiate and spread the message is key.

    Like

  12. @ Ruhi: As things work in the UK, a bigger chain trying to do it would find their ‘initiative’ going down like a lead bucket. šŸ™‚

    In fact, small traders and shops in Modbury in Devon have banded together to declare their town plastic-bag-free.

    I think our corner shop lady did misread her market. She did have a wonderful initiative earlier which she has now resumed. She re-uses plastic bags from supermarkets and sometimes we customers bring her our bags so she can reuse them. Communities can get positive results but the way to initiate and spread the message is key.

    Like

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