Single-use plastic is a menace to the planet and its inhabitants, both animal and human. Most single-use plastic is packaging and 32 percent of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced a year ends up in the world’s oceans.
Every minute, the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic enters the oceans. That is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050, which means by then there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Less than 10 percent of plastic in the U.S. is recycled. As plastic degrades, it breaks down into smaller pieces that marine life mistakes for food which causes health problems for them.
Plastic production is expected to double in the next 20 years, largely as a result of packaging. What are grocery retailers doing about it? Not much, according to a recent Greenpeace report that assessed 22 grocery retailers with either a significant nationwide or regional presence. While 90 percent of the retailers assessed received overall passing scores, not one has comprehensive policies in place to reduce and phase out single-use plastic.
This year, Greenpeace asked retailers what steps they have taken to address their plastic footprints. The best example is Walmart’s 2025 goal of 100 percent recycled content for its private label packaging.
Greenpeace describes the retailer’s goal as "the epitome of an outdated, ineffective strategy that many retailers currently employ."
The Break Free From Plastic movement
Called the Break Free From Plastic movement, Greenpeace and over 1,000 other organizations are calling on retailers to set goals to quickly phase out single-use plastics. Businesses are responding.
The U.K. retailer Iceland became the first major supermarket chain earlier this year to commit to removing plastic packaging from its private brand products. McDonald’s pledged to stop using Styrofoam cups and packaging by the end of 2018. Starbucks announced it will discontinue the use of plastic straws, while IKEA is phasing out single-use plastics. Bon Appétit Management Company pledged to ban plastic straws. Aramark recently pledged to reduce single-use plastics across its global operations.
"Retailers also have a critical role to play around the reduction of single-use plastics, as the equivalent of one garage truck of plastic enters our oceans every minute of every day," David Pinsky, Greenpeace oceans campaigner, told Global Warming Is Real.
"Supermarkets must act urgently, using their brands and buying power to demand changes from global companies and regulatory bodies that have the power to ensure a better future for our oceans."
What consumers can do to demand change from grocery retailers
The Greenpeace report lists ways that consumers can take action, which include talking to grocery store managers about ocean health and joining the Break Free From Plastic movement. One way to do so is by taking pictures of over-packaged items and post them on social media.
Consumers are not powerless. They have "tremendous power," Pinksy points out, by "choosing whether to purchase sustainable seafood or products wrapped in single-use plastic at their favorite grocer." Consumers can make individual lifestyle changes and demand that supermarkets phase out single-use packaging.
The bottom line is that consumers can use their voices to demand change from the stores where they buy food. As they do, grocery retailers will take notice and make changes.