The Plastic Problem
Did you see the June 2018 issue of National Geographic? It’s all about plastic waste. How about that New York Times article “Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right?” Have you heard about the giant patch of garbage floating in the ocean? Did you read about the plastic shopping bag found in the world’s deepest ocean trench? That’s 36,000 feet below the ocean surface. I imagine that bag, swishing and floating and sinking in slow motion for years and years before it settled under the pressure of so much water.
There’s a metaphor for this predicament in there somewhere.
Humans produce a lot of garbage and it’s a big problem. Americans are estimated to produce over 258 million tons of trash per year. Of that trash, over 12% is single use plastics like water bottles, plastic forks, Styrofoam cups, and plastic bags. Communities like Seattle and Bellingham have responded to this garbage crisis with ordinances that work to reduce the amount of non-compostable material that ends up in landfills. City bans on plastic shopping bags, plastic straws, and Styrofoam containers are popping up all over the country.
Recently, the Co-op has received a wave of customer comments asking that we put additional efforts toward reducing plastic waste. A big part of the Co-op’s mission is to support consumers who want to be part of the solution, not just in reducing consumer waste, but in all aspects of living a sustainable life. We’ve been offering alternatives and solutions for a long time, both in our practices as a business and in the products and services we offer up to our community.
We are already committed
No plastic shopping bags, ever! We’ve never offered plastic shopping bags and we’ve always encouraged and rewarded customers for bringing their own reusable bag. When you bring your own bag, we donate 5 cents to charity through our Tokens for Tomorrow program.
Bring your own containers. We’ve always encouraged our shoppers to bring their own containers to fill up in our bulk department. We offer everything from freshly ground peanut butter to rice, granola, flour, raisins, spices and coffee. But you don’t have to stop there. You can bring your own bags for fresh produce and containers to take home food and drinks from our deli, as well. When you bring your own cup, we take 10 cents off your purchase.
Filtered water station.
We have a filtered water dispenser where you can fill up your own container. Twenty-nine cents a gallon is a pretty sweet deal. You can’t buy a plastic bottle of water for that!
Fill your growler.
With 16 taps at the Third Street Cafe, you are welcome to bring your own growler to fill from our selection of craft beers, cider, and kombucha.
Products to reduce consumption.
We offer many, many products intended to help reduce waste, including reusable food wrap, compostable straws and utensils, travel utensils, food storage containers, beverage cups and bottles, and a carbonator exchange program for Soda Stream water machines.
Low waste deli.
When we first opened our deli, we made the commitment to serve food with real plates, bowls, cups, glasses, and utensils instead of the disposable containers offered by many casual dining restaurants. For food and drinks to-go, nearly all of our packaging is compostable. And, don’t forget, you are welcome to bring your own cup for coffee, tea, and smoothies. Our new restaurant and bakery operate on the same principles.
Evaluating new products.
We have many criteria for evaluation of new products. One of them is looking at product packaging. We frequently reject products because they are overpackaged or not recyclable in our community.
Reusing packing materials.
We save nearly all of the bubble wrap, packing peanuts, zip bags, and Styrofoam packaging materials from our deliveries and donate them to a local shipping business for reuse.
And, of course, we recycle and compost as much as we can.
And we are committed to doing more…
Paper straws in deli and café.
Coming soon, our deli and Third Street Cafe will be transitioning from plastic straws to paper straws.
Exploring our recycling challenges.
Skagit County has limited recycling options, so we are looking for increased recycling alternatives for items not accepted locally.
Letter to manufacturers.
We have drafted a letter to send out to our suppliers asking them to consider packaging alternatives and to keep us informed.
Monetary contributions to causes.
Through our Tokens for Tomorrow program we will donate to more organizations working to reduce waste.
Keeping you informed.
Some of the customer feedback we have received indicates that many do not know about the actions we are already taking. So, we are moving ahead with better signage around the store and updates through our newsletter and social media platforms.
Understanding the Challenges
Can you imagine a world where all the potato chips were stale? Yuck.
One simple fact is that many foods require a moisture barrier to stay fresh. Packaging design and cost need to catch up with consumer demand for sustainable alternatives. And more consumers need to be willing to adopt packaging alternatives that look different and cost a little more in order for manufacturers to move forward with research and development. For example, a few years ago when Seventh Generation released a laundry detergent packaged in a bottle made of compostable paper pulp, very few customers at our store would buy it. It cost more, it looked funny, and you had to pull the plastic liner away from the paper in order to compost it. (In my experience, if it’s not convenient, most people won’t do it.)
There are a lot of very big challenges in realizing the vision of a plastic-reduced world, and there are about 7.6 billion people on our planet who would need to get on board to make it real. That includes poor people with few resources, and rich folks with a lot of options. That includes consumers, manufacturers, corporations, municipalities, waste management, schools, governments, and organizations with the pull and power to make big change.
When it comes to retail environments, your Co-op is a pretty small fish (swimming hard!) in the big ocean, but we are doing what we can to provide alternatives for consumers in our community who want to reduce their dependence on single-use plastics.
https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html/. “In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash”.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X17305195#!. Plastic shopping bag found at 36,000 feet below ocean surface.
http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/?. 7.6 billion people on Earth June 28, 2018.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/world/china-recyclables-ban.html. 1.42 million tons of recyclables sent to China by america in 1 year