Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza have become first supermarket chain in the world to offer plastic-free aisles in one of their supermarkets. In association with the environmental pressure group A Plastic Planet, the supermarket unveiled the aisle in one of their Amsterdam branches. The aisle itself features around 700 distinct products, from which customers can choose, all of which are available without plastic packaging.
The supermarket hopes to unveil the policy across all 74 of its Dutch stores. If the policy proves both successful and commercially viable, it will likely put increasing pressure on other supermarkets to follow suit, in the Netherlands, the UK, and further afield.
The scheme comes after the issue of single use, non-perishable plastics has been propelled to the height of public consciousness. The issue was raised in David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’, and became so influential, that it formed the basis for flagship policies in a speech by the UK Prime Minister. With the retail sector accounting for such a large percentage of the country’s plastic waste, it’s particularly important for this sector to take a leading role in sustainable reform.
In her speech, the Prime Minister set targets for the reduction of the country’s overall plastic waste, and specifically encouraged retailers to invest in biodegradable alternatives to non-perishable plastics where possible. The industry’s response was positive and constructive – but the retail sector took care to remind people that there was a valuable role for plastics in the preservation of perishable goods and reducing food waste.
In response to this scheme campaigners said ‘there’s no logic in wrapping perishable foods in indestructible plastic,’ even going so far as to call the claim that we can’t live without plastics in food and drink ‘a lie’.
Back here in the UK, some supermarkets have already signalled that they will look to follow suit. The frozen supermarket chain Iceland has pledged to eliminate all plastic on its own brand products by 2023.
Is this likely to change anything?
There’s every chance that this and future schemes will prove successful. There’s no evidence that there’s any great love for plastics among the general population, and a survey on the possibility of plastic-free aisles in British supermarkets recorded a 91 per cent approval rating.
There is, however, no guarantee that supermarkets will follow this example. It would be difficult and largely impractical for the government to impose plastic reduction strategies on the retail sector, so it is largely contingent on individual businesses, whether supermarkets or your local corner shop, to look to do this of their own accord. Despite encouraging words from the retail sector, and stores such as Iceland, this is not a given.
In order to encourage responsible waste management policies from our retailers, it’s therefore important that we as consumers take decisive action in supporting those suppliers who pioneer such sustainable solutions as Ekoplaza. As the old mantra goes, we should all be ‘voting with our wallets’ and trying where possible to buy biodegradable alternatives to plastic whenever they are offered. Putting continuing pressure on businesses that fail to make such offers available, and actively supporting those that do, will play an important role in shaping a responsible and sustainable retail sector for the future.
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