I hope this finds you well.
I just read your opinion piece in Stuff titled ‘Have we been blinded by the success of the plastic bag ban?’ and I felt compelled to reply.
Firstly I must be transparent and let you know I am the sustainability consultant behind the “Bags Not” behaviour change campaign that was generously funded by New World (and Z Energy, and NZME), and am heavily in favour of the steps the major supermarket changes have taken regarding plastic bags.
However you are totally right, the plastic bag is a minimal part of the overall plastic pollution crisis and there is a huge amount still to do. But, it’s a start.
And that is the key point I want to make.
Collectively as global citizens we all have to make HUGE changes, really quickly, to how we are living. And that is a pretty overwhelming task when you think about it for too long. Half the global carbon emission in 12 years, eat less meat and dairy (in a country where meat and dairy are the bbackbonesof our economy and culture), be conscious of how we consume, and fundamentally change our relationship with plastic.
But change has to start somewhere, and I have always believed that the plastic shopping bag was the best place to start.
They are ubiquitous with our consuming habits and ingrained in our lives. But if we can coach Kiwis through the process of remembering to always take a bag shopping, and support them through how to live without plastic shopping bags to line their rubbish bins, or pick up dog poo (just check out some of the comments on the “Bags Not” facebook page to see how resistant many are to that idea), and then show them that everything is ok. The world is still spinning, the Black Caps are still winning, their dog still loves them, and their produce hasn’t been bruised then we can move onto the next plastic challenge.
But by dragging our feet on plastic bags, pointing fingers, and blaming others is holding us back. Instead, can we not build on the learnings about plastics from plastic bags, build more collective momentum, take responsibility for our own plastic usage, and crack on with the next solution?
And to your point “(supermarkets have) avoided the broader conversation on the vast quantities of other plastic they sell us every week”, I wanted to say that what we know about behaviour change is that it is always more successful to focus on one behaviour at a time rather than multiple behaviours (just ask any good personal trainer). Changing a behaviour takes time and conscious effort. If the narrative had been on all the plastic in supermarkets, rather than just the plastic bag, we all would have been frozen with confusion, frustration would have boiled over, and we would have risked the ultimate fail, that everyone just gives up.
Yes, the supermarkets absolutely have to take responsibility for the plastic in their stores, but so to do their suppliers, the transport companies, and their customers. We are all in this together. I am in no way defending the supermarkets, I am just not a fan of pointing the finger at others. Instead, I think we should look to focus on ourselves and our purchasing decisions. As a wise man once said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
And we have influencing power no? We as customers can choose where to spend our money. We can support business, farmers markets, and refillery stores that are offering alternatives no? We can buy meat from our local butcher and ask them to wrap it in paper or take our own containers, grow some of our own herbs and vegetables, or get packaging free food boxes delivered, can’t we?
And I think we all know we will see some pretty quick changes at supermarkets if their bottom lines start to drop!
I totally agree with you that we should hold the supermarkets (and any business) accountable for any greenwashing. It is hugely damaging for everyone and I think there should be much more proactive efforts by the government to shut that down. But let’s not be dictated to on how much plastic we are forced to use. Let’s take ownership of how much we use and making an effort to reduce our usage step by step.
As you rightly highlight, there is still a frighteningly shocking amount of plastic still in our supermarkets, and when we know that the recycling of plastic is fundamentally and economically flawed (quick bit of research into recycling plastics should explain why), then it really is an overwhelming problem to solve.
But solve it we must. And solve it we will!
If the solution to many of the plastics currently requires a behaviour change requiring customers to bring their own reusable produce bags, or put their produce in a flax basket, or to simply put their produce in the corner of the trolley perhaps supported by a cereal box, or other larger item, so they don’t roll about (I challenge you to try that next time your buying produce at the supermarket Gareth), then how we cope with the change to bringing our own bags shopping has to work.
Well that’s my thoughts anyway.
Co-Founder “Bags Not”
Director / Founder Go Well Consulting