Conservation is becoming a pressing topic for people as the effects of plastic pollution on the environment are increasingly becoming apparent. In an effort to reduce waste and encourage other retailers to do the same, Dutch grocery chain Ekoplaza, has unveiled the world’s first zero-plastic supermarket aisle in Amsterdam.
The aisle features over 700 plastic-free food items for customers to choose from including meat, rice, sauces, dairy, chocolate, cereals, fruit and vegetables. Instead of plastic, food items in this aisle are packaged in compostable biomaterials, glass, metal and cardboard.
This innovative aisle is the result of a campaign by an environmental advocacy group, called A Plastic Planet, that aims to completely eradicate plastic pollution in the world. The group’s co-founder Sian Sutherland has been advocating for a plastic-free aisle in every supermarket and she referred to Ekoplaza’s Amsterdam store as a “symbol of what the future of food retailing will be.”
“In a day where you can buy gluten-free, fat-free, dairy-free, all of these things free, just give us one aisle and that aisle is of course a symbol. It’s a symbol of what change can be in the future,” Sutherland said in a CNN interview.
Sutherland goes on to say that what her organization is asking for is a difficult feat. For retailers, switching from plastic to environmentally friendly materials would be costly and require a lot of effort, but there is a need for change.
“We totally understand what we’re asking for is highly inconvenient — it’s difficult,” she continued. “However, it’s indefensible for us to continue to wrap up our perishable food and drink in this indestructible material of plastic. So, everybody knows now that progress has to be made.”
Ekoplaza is planning on introducing a plastic-free aisle in all of their 74 locations in the Netherlands as soon as possible. Sutherland has appeared on various news outlets promoting the idea of a plastic-free aisle in all grocery stores.
“So, it is very hard if you want to change your habits and you go to the supermarket and you push your trolley and you’re trying to put your meat and your fish and your weekly groceries in, and everything is wrapped in plastic. So, you end up taking this shed load of plastic home, you put it in your bin and you have no idea if it’s actually going to be recycled properly,” she told SkyNews.
According to Science Magazine, approximately 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste was accumulated worldwide by 2015 and only nine percent of that amount was recycled; 79 percent of this plastic waste can be found in landfills or the natural environment. If this plastic pollution trend continues, about 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste will pollute the world’s landfills and natural environments by 2050.
The most common type of plastic waste that contributes to plastic pollution are plastic bottles. According to BBC, about 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide in 2016, which equates to one million bottles sold per minute. About 110 billion of those bottles sold were produced by soda giant Coca Cola. China was found to be the biggest producer of plastic waste, however the US is one of the top 20 countries contributing to plastic pollution.
With consumers becoming more environmentally conscious, food companies have an opportunity to appeal to this growing demographic through sustainable packaging. The idea of a plastic-free aisle is not as far-fetched as some would consider it, as more eco-friendly grocery stores are popping up in North America.
In Canada, there are several zero-waste shops set up that offer a variety of grocery items without packaging. One of the first zero-waste grocery stores in Canada is Vancouver’s Zero Waste Market followed by Ottawa-based grocery store Nu. There is also another zero-waste grocery store in the works called NADA that is planning on debuting as soon as possible in Vancouver. Shoppers come to these stores with their own containers that they can use to store their food items in and pay depending on the weight of their purchases.
With millennials saying that sustainability is a shopping priority for them, this is definitely a segment food companies should look into.
“Paper, card, wood pulp, grass, glass, tin, not plastic lined, aluminum. There’s so many other materials. There won’t be one thing that directly replaces plastic, it will be a plethora of things,” said Sutherland when asked about plastic alternatives.