How to engage local shops and shoppers about plastic waste

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how to engage people with the issues surrounding plastic waste zero waste weekShirley wrote to me recently. She said “I love you to write about how to engage with your local supermarket/shoppers about how much plastic waste there is.

I really want to start doing something but I’ve no idea how to start. I’d like to be more active than just sharing things on Facebook.”

This ties in perfectly with a campaign group I wrote about last week called ‘A Plastic Planet’.

They are trying to prove consumer demand to the major supermarkets in the UK by collecting videos of ordinary people asking for a plastic free aisle. The idea is that we have ‘free from’ aisles such as free from gluten or free from lactose, so why not free from plastic? If you want to add your voice to the campaign, you’ll find all the instructions here (scroll down to ‘How To Get A Plastic Free Aisle in Supermarkets’)

A couple of ways I like to make a difference are by ‘return to sender’ with supermarkets.

Return to sender

I once spent a year writing letters to supermarkets and returning packaging that I could not recycle. My message was that if the householder couldn’t recycle it easily, the supermarket had no business creating it. I didn’t receive particularly insightful responses, other that a stock response that they took environmental issues seriously, but just imagine if we ALL wrote letters and returned packaging. There would soon be some changes I reckon!

Lead by example

As for shoppers, I prefer to ‘lead by example’. So I’ll take my reusable containers into my local butcher and deli. I’m sure people look at what I’m doing, listen in on my conversations and it might just sow a seed. Sure, the majority of people might think I’m a complete weirdo, but there will be a couple who start thinking about issues and make changes themselves.

Organic a litter pick

Gather together some family members, friends or colleagues and organise a litter pick. You could separate the plastic waste then send a story to your local press. You never know where that might end up – the front page of your local newspaper, a radio interview or even national press. This is a great way to get the conversation started AND do something good for your community.

Film screening

Another idea is to hold a screening of a film for your local community. There are many fantastic documentaries available that outline some of the problems associated with plastic waste. After the screening you could organise a Q&A session.

Community group

If a screening doesn’t appeal, how about setting up a community group. Similar to a Transition Town (or indeed, instead of reinventing the wheel, see if there is a local transition town already in place that you could join) where you gather a group of people to discuss the topic and perhaps set yourself challenges or a friendly competition, focusing on one specific area of plastic waste per month.

Awareness at work

A brilliant place to raise awareness is at your place of work. Is there an ‘Eco committee’? If not, why not set one up and arrange talks, presentations and office audits to see where the problem lies and what you could do about it.

I threw Shirley’s query out to our Facebook Group to see what they had to say. Here’s what they suggested:

Sarah said “ I take my own bags and discuss why if it comes up in conversation. Also I have emailed Tesco as they no longer had plastic bag recycling at my local supermarket, now they have put the collection point back.

Amy is all about the rewards. She shared “Don’t forget to praise them for the good things. Lidl were selling unwrapped cucumbers last year so I wrote on their Facebook to thank them for that (then wrote again a month or so later to nag them a bit when they went back to wrapped ones).”

Vicky said “I contact the supermarkets either in store at customers services

Nic likes to lead by example. She writes “I don’t buy food or drink in plastic, I leave fruit/veg packaged plastics at the checkout, I leave fruit stickers at the fruit veg stand, I talk to checkout staff about plastic waste and bring my own bags.”

Although Shirley wants to do than post on Facebook, I wanted to share some ideas from Claire and Anita.

Claire from Australia writes “There’s a hashtag we use here in Australia – to accompany a photo of plastic packaged produce “I prefer #plasticfreeproduce

The aim of which is to try and slow down supermarkets from their drive to wrap everything.

Anita, the founder of a popular Facebook page expands on the idea. She writes “The idea is you leave a comment on the facebook page of the store and on your own page and tag the store.

This creates public awareness as well as putting pressure on the supermarkets to respond.

So we complain about the excess packaging and add that we will only buy #PlasticFreeProduce and virtually give them a free plug if they do good on a particular item and if they don’t, we say “I won’t buy your food because you unnecessarily wrapped it in plastic.”

It seems to be most effective when you play the big supermarkets off against each other, like I shunned Coles for something bad they did, then they reversed it, so I gave them a free plug and told everyone to go there and buy the item. This makes Woolworths feel like they are missing out. And good to take photos and show when they discount packaged food over loose, we’ve been highlighting this issue a lot. “

What about you – do you have any ideas for Shirley on how she can raise awareness of these issues – preferably away from social media?

Rachelle Strauss
Rachelle Strauss
Rachelle Strauss is founder of MyZeroWaste.com and ZeroWasteWeek.co.uk Both are leading websites for helping householders reduce landfill waste. Her work has attracted media stories and engagement in documentaries, film and radio both locally and abroad.

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