Supermarkets Shamed

For the past year or so I have been saving every piece of single-use-plastic packaging from food I bought from Tesco.   I have a substantial collection.

Part of Tesco’s Mission Statement reads, “Every little help makes a big difference – it’s the value we live by to ensure we serve our customers, colleagues and their communities a little better every day.”

As far as I can see, Tesco’s have shown no improvement in any aspect of their work.  They removed the use of single-use plastic carrier bags and introduced the “Bag for Life” at a cost of 10p, replacing damaged bags for free.  This was part of a government scheme (not Tesco) to reduce litter and protect wildlife, given that plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down.

About 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.

Part of Tesco’s “Every Little Helps Plan” states, “As a global retailer and the UK’s biggest fishmonger, Tesco has a crucial role in promoting healthy oceans and fish stocks.”  If you read the labels as I do it is clear that it is not just the floating islands of plastics that are detrimental to marine life but constant over-fishing, wastage and unsustainable fish farms that polute waters well beyond their own boundaries.

This small change from free plastic bags to the 10p Bag for Life, though showing a reduction in the volume of single-use plastic that ends up in landfill sites or the environment, is insignificant compared to the huge volume of food packaging that has for as long as I remember carried the black recycled label with a cross over it and the words “Not currectly recycled”.  Given that pretty much everything fresh or otherwise, is packaged thus, it dwarfs the carrier bag issue into insignificance.  But perhaps Tesco believe that their carrier bag effort, ostensibly enforced by government, is enough, considering that they have “done their bit” for the envonment, and can now proceed undistracted with their relentless pursuit of profit at any cost.

Arguably, it could be said that supermarkets have destroyed small businesses, communities and even individual lives.  Largely due to the human weakness for convenience, the major food retailers have taken full advantage of this and presented an offer, that cannot be refused, “everything under one roof”, a “one-stop shop”.  But their insatiable desire for profit and market leadership has diverted their attention away from the fundemental responsibility and duty of care for animal life and the enviroment.

For so many reasons the “cosmetic” approach to selling food has and must come to an end.  Around 40% of food produced by UK farms ends up as waste.  This puts a massive burden on  farmers already pressured into a “break-even” or worse, business model, by supermarket demands for cheaper produce, buy-one-get-one-free, half price, 3 meal deal, 3 for the price of 2 etc etc.  Mostly the supermarkets pass on this cost to the supplier, and has proved one of the main causes of small and family run farm closures in this country and the growth of unsustainable industrial farming that has produced so much pain and misery for billions of animals, not just in the UK but globally, and, placing unregulated power into the hands of huge corporations whose sole remit is profit, who pay lip service only to quality of life and have become too big to fail.

According to the Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted”.  All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.

Arguably, the major supermarkets can if they choose to, play a key role in reducing waste by abandoning the “cosmetic food” approach.  By presenting fruit and vegetables to buyers “greengrocer” style regardless of “shape”, “blemishes”, “size” etc., they will immediately invoke a substantial reduction in single-use plastic, enable farmers to improve their business and become more sustainable, encourage farming on a smaller scale, and even revitialize traditional farming methods of pasture-grazed livestock or arable farming that uses the rotation method, allowing fields to lie fallow and replenish. This eliminates diminishing soil fertility which inevitably leads to further use of synthetic inputs that cause pollution and eventually, loss of arable land.

Livestock factory farming is an abomination and a scourge on our society. The speed and extent of it’s proliferation is nothing short of alarming.  It is desperately cruel to animals whose lives are a catelogue of misery and pain from birth to an agonising and terrifying death. It is completely unsustainable and is insidiously and overtly damaging to both the local and global environment.  However, this is another subject altogether and I do not want to cover this in detail in this article.

According to an investigation by the Guardian, Britain’s leading supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year,and reveals how top chains keep details of their plastic footprint secret. This volume would cover the whole of Greater London to a depth of 2.5cm. Former Asda chief executive Andy Clarke said recently supermarkets should not use any plastics for packaging. “It is vital that the UK packaging industry and supermarkets work together to turn off the tap.”

This is clearly not happening and whilst the burden on the natural world increases exponentially the government and law-makers should no longer stand by silent and docile, but force change with legislation, strict limits, short deadlines for change and severe fines for non-compliance.  The Board of Directors of Tesco and other supermarket chains have become complacent in the luxury they have created for themselves.  No person should be denied the opportunity to become rich, but to do so and then through deliberate neglect, contribute so much damage to the enviroment, and misery to smaller businesses, families and animals, those people should be brought to account for what they have done and continue to do with impunity.