Eastbourne Greenpeace set up a plastics 'drop-off point' on Saturday outside Sainsbury's, at the back entrance of the Beacon Centre.
Shoppers were invited to free their fruit and veg etc of unnecessary plastic packaging, as part of a national Day of Action, to remind supermarkets to live up to their responsibilities and drastically reduce their plastic footprint. With the grocery sector accounting for over half of the 1.5m tonnes of consumer plastic packaging used in retail every year. Sainsbury's are currently bottom of the Greenpeace/Environmental Investigation Agency 'League Table', of the top 10 UK supermarkets on plastics policies [see www.greenpeace.org.uk/supermarket-score-new-plastic-league-table]. Although some groups will have targeted Tesco and ASDA, all of which have made only piecemeal committments to reduce plastic usage, especially with regard to eliminating non-recyclable plastics and putting pressure on suppliers to make changes.
With 7 volunteers in attendance to promote the event at various times from 12-3pm, after an admittedly rather slow start as we tried different ways of approaching and engaging with shoppers without the risk of overwhelming them [or being mistaken for 'chuggers'!] and presenting the visuals including a giant 'free the veg' broccoli board in the most effective way, the stall attracted a lot of attention and a largely very positive response.
As well as prompts from the folk on the stall another person stood near the entrance inviting shoppers as well as people without shopping to come over and sign the petition to 'End Ocean Plastics' while another made regular 'patrols' inside the Centre, with the broccoli board to talk to shoppers leaving in the other direction.
With the Blue Planet programme and all the work of campaigning groups over the last year it appears that most people have at least some awareness of the problem of plastic pollution and want to help do something about it. Over 40 people signed the petition [demanding that supermarkets eliminate all non-recyclable packaging by the end of 2019, and set yearly targets], and any not in a rush, and had purchases of fruit and veg or other items wrapped in plastic were able to leave their packaging with us and invited to write a message to the store, on an 'End Ocean Plastics' slip, which they stapled to the returned plastic expressing their displeasure. Recycled paper bags were available as an alternative if appropriate. 'This is Pointless Plastic' calling cards were available for people to use and leave at the till with excessive packaging next time they went shopping as with the autumn 'Shoppers Revolt'.
About half way through the Sainsbury's store manager emerged, and spent several minutes in conversation, friendly and sympathetic personally. but from the store's point of view stated the opinion that Sainsbury's were already doing what they could to deal with the problem, and therefore shouldn't be singled out. We are hoping we were able to get across the need to make changes at all levels from production, through to 'educating' the public to do things differently such as bringing own containers. One would imagine one of the biggest barriers to eliminating single-use plastic is the way produce is bagged up to shift larger quantities, and the time factor involved in weighing it either by the shopper or at the till so supermarkets would probably say prices would have to go up.
Another staff member insisted that the use of packaging had several benefits and that plastic has a lower carbon footprint overall than paper so is a better option.
Hopefully our presence was generally enlightening and a useful contribution to the campaign to end single-use plastic.
By Linda Wintle