On a recent trip to my neighborhood grocery store, the Fairway Market in Harlem, I ran across this rather disturbing display. All I could think was, come on Mott's®, really?
Last time I checked, apples have perfectly functional, natural packaging to begin with. How hard is it for consumers to simply slice one up and put it in a reusable container, or better yet, go ahead and bite into a whole one (...be still my heart!)? Am I being too snobby? Maybe so, but it's freakin' ridiculous. Mott's®, pleeeease!
I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but it's so disturbingly common to see things like this in our "convenience" based marketplace these days. The worst part is that it's just so easy to glaze-over at the grocery store and start throwing all this over-packaged junk into our carts without even questioning it. Just to hammer the point home, here's a link to some more examples of over-packaging doozies.
At least we can be thankful that the use of reusable bags is more common than ever (or can we? I often wonder if it's plateaued or is, in fact, in decline. If you know of any good articles about this, please send them my way!) Despite this, however, I still feel that I have to be hyper-vigilant at the checkout to ensure that the folks bagging my food don't throw everything into doubled-up plastic bags before I can exclaim..."Ack, stop, please wait, I brought my own! Sorry, arrrgh!"
So, in addition to problems at the check-out, which are definitely indicative of issues of class and poverty in this country that I am not prepared to deal with in this post, there's also been a backlash against reusable bags from some folks in the scientific and law enforcement communities. Studies have proclaimed that the bacteria build-up in reusable bags is making people sick AND that reusable bags are also enabling an increase in shoplifting.
The question here, I guess, is... is it better to teach people to wash their bags or continue to add plastic to our landfills and oceans? AND how much food do grocers throw away each month in comparison to how much is stolen? These would be interesting comparisons, I think.
Despite the purported cons and general disinterest, I think it's pretty hard to argue with the fact that the best thing we can do is continue to bring our own (clean) bags to the store and look for other innovative ways to reduce our consumption across the board.
To this end, I've often though it would be wonderful to start a nonprofit that provides free training to grocery store employees on environmental responsibility and reducing the use of plastic bags. Ideally in conjunction with a wide-spread, rejuvenated anti-litter campaign. I'm happy to report at least, that the Yorkville Common Pantry, a food pantry I've volunteered with many times, is now encouraging it's clients to bring a reusable bag for their weekly distributions! Small but important steps in the right direction.
As for me, in addition to reusable bags, a while back I bought a set of reusable mesh produce bags that have been wonderful. They roll up nice and small and don't add any weight to your produce/dry goods, so you can avoid even more plastic packaging AND buy from the bulk section. Nice!
So, what do you do to reduce, reuse, and recycle when you're food shopping? What initiatives do you think will help lead us toward a more sustainable future? I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!