…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
As I glanced around the fruit and veg section of the supermarket, looking for the reduced-priced items that would help to dictate the contents of my fridge and the meals for the week, I saw a reduced-priced cauliflower.
Much of what is in the fruit and veg section is wrapped/supplied in some form of plastic. Lots is in a nasty “plastic film” that is “not currently recycled”, some (like grapes or tomatoes) is in clear plastic trays (to protect them I assume) that can be recycled (hopefully being type 2/HDPE), but then also wrapped in plastic film, and some is in a plastic bag of a type that can be recycled with carrier bags. And some stuff is sold loose but then has a plastic sticker on (which one can only assume cannot be recycled).
Ideally I’d buy everything loose – I take my own bags with me for this, but reduced stuff is not loose and the supermarkets have this idea that consumers prefer stuff to be pre-packaged (I think this consumer preference should be irrelevant). There is also a difference in price for loose stuff which is not easy to calculate – I worked out that six loose apples were 25p less than their pre-packaged counterparts, but three loose peppers are twice the price and while they look a little bigger I don’t think they are twice the size.
I don’t mind plastic packaging, providing it is the type that can be easily recycled (my weekly recycling pick-up scheme provided by the council will connect type 1 and 2). I treat plastic like glass and paper when it can be recycled, although I wonder how much energy is consumed in producing and recycling each type.
The labelling is usually pretty good on a plastic bag or plastic film so that you can see from a glance which it is and if it can be recycled, you also learn to recognise what’s in what, and which is which. But the cauliflower, upon glancing at it was in a loose plastic bag, the same as some lettuces or cabbages, and I assumed it was the recyclable type as they had been, but as I stepped closer a “Plastic Film – Not currently recycled” label stared out at me. I was confused, and left it alone.
Next up was the reduced meat section and I happened upon a pair of burgers. They were packaged in a black plastic tray and wrapped over with plastic film – no worries, pretty typical, at least the black plastic tray could be recycled, or so I thought.
Back at home, as I was preparing the burgers I noticed that the label on the burger packaging was one of these double-sided things where the description and the bar-code are on the front, but other details are on the reverse – this is sometimes the case with veg and you have to rummage through the foliage to see the reverse of the label (or wait until you unpack it). The thing with this particular label was that the recycling symbols were on the reverse of it, so even if I hadn’t assumed the tray was recyclable, I wouldn’t have been able to see it whilst in the shop anyway. To my horror there were two “Plastic – Not currently recycled” symbols, one for the film (as expected) but also one for the plastic tray (actually, even more strangely it’s actually classed as a mixed material). Gutted. How could such a substantial plastic tray not be of the type 1 or 2 as I had expected? Did they not think how many centuries this would take to biodegrade?
Returning to the cauliflower conundrum, the one I didn’t buy because it was labelled as being in a plastic film, not a plastic carrier bag type plastic that could be recycled as such, I discovered the same discrepancy between a lettuce and a cabbage I already had in my fridge. Both were in this “same type” of plastic (going by look and feel) yet one was labelled as plastic that could be recycled with carrier bags, and one was labelled as film that couldn’t be recycled. What’s going on? Are they really two different types of plastic that I can’t differentiate, or is the labelling wrong?
I’ve also discovered that the mushrooms I bought, which were in a plastic tray and wrapped over in clingfilm, are in a tray that is both labelled as “plastic – check local recycling” and the plastic is “stamped” as type 5 (PP) – previous purchases were in a type 2 that could be recycled with my weekly collection. I’ll have to hold on to this and take it to the recycling centre (how many people will bother?). The recycling symbols were again on the reverse of the label so I wouldn’t have known in the store anyway. I prefer to buy loose mushrooms (taking my own bag) but these were reduced – again, gutted that the tray type had changed.
Either way, all my “Plastic Film” goes into a sack and I take it to the recycling centre when full, rather than putting it in my general waste bin and sending it to landfill myself. I don’t know if this makes any difference – I can only hope they do something worthwhile with it, or at least begin to see how much of this stuff there is – if everyone did what I do then I think it would have a greater impact and make the recycling centre recognise just how much of this stuff needs dealing with.
Trying to avoid non-recyclable plastic is tricky, and it bemuses me that one food can be in one type and yet another similar food in another, such as porridge oats which are in a recyclable plastic bag, but muesli isn’t, or even the same foods in different types, like lettuces – some are shrink-wrapped while others are in a loose bag (this appears to be because of the different types of lettuce), or the supermarket’s own bread being in a recyclable bag, whereas branded stuff not. The system needs to wake up and become streamlined and recyclable materials need to be the preferred choice for produce suppliers.
I have not specifically named the supermarket I used on this particular occasion because I recognise this is an issue for each of the different supermarkets I use which seem to have similar ranges of produce/packaging – I shall be sending some letters so watch this space 😉