Now that we’re all heading off to the supermarket armed with plastic bags, you can’t help realising the contradiction of tearing off plastic bags for loose fruit and veg. This isn’t a lament about pre-packed produce but about our own voluntary re-packaging. All of the big supermarkets opt for plastic and not paper bags for their loose fruit and veg. Indeed, Walmart-owned Asda is axing loose produce completely so customers will have to buy plastic-packaged goods.
We emailed Tesco to find out why they don’t have paper bags instead of plastic. This was their response:
“In relation to the specific point you have raised on plain brown paper bags for fruit and vegetables, our analysis has shown that they have a larger carbon footprint than plastic due to their weight. We are therefore working with our suppliers to find a sustainable solution via recycling or composting.”
The rationale goes that, because a paper bag is heavier, more carbon emissions are kicked into the atmosphere to transport it. But this focus on carbon footprint is at the expense of the plastic footprint. Yes, CO2 is heating up the planet and we need to improve energy efficiency to reduce it but plastic bags are floating around the seas for hundreds of years. If we don’t start considering the plastic footprint then, in 500 years, global warming will have raised sea levels drastically but we won’t have to move to the summit of mountains because we’ll all be living on rafts of plastic.
Some of us leave carrots rattling around loose in the bottom of the basket but many are still devouring metres of plastic bags. Perhaps it’s our human need to seek order: courgettes in one bag, onions in another. In which case, why don’t we bring last week’s bags back and use them again? We’ve adapted to saving carrier bags so it’s hardly a leap into the unknown to do the same with greengrocery. In fact, until someone manufactures reusable veg bags as they do shopping bags, it’s the best option.
Once you start thinking about saving plastic bags for fruit and veg, you realise they’re everywhere: the bag a white sliced comes in, that bag inside cereal boxes, the endless small, handleless bags you get with a No Bags online shop that each contain one object. You couldn’t buy enough fruit and veg to use them all.
There is undoubtedly a myriad of things supermarkets could do to offset the additional weight of the paper bag right now. Only print receipts if asked, don’t distribute print-outs with an online delivery… those have got to be worth at least a couple of paper bags.