On Sunday, I did my weekly fruit and veg shop at the little market down by Shoreditch High Street station. Not only can you get great bargains, like bowls of pointed peppers and peaches for £1, but you can also avoid the plastic packaging you get in supermarkets. I simply filled up a reusable woven shopper bag with my favourite fruit and veg (above). You may also want to bring a separate cloth bag or reusable container if you’re buying more delicate items like berries.
Around 40% of plastic is used in packaging and the UK generates around 2.4 million tonnes per year of packaging waste (WRAP). The largest source of plastic packaging is the grocery retail sector, accounting for almost 1 million tonnes (or 43%) of plastic packaging (WRAP, 2016).
But what is so bad about plastic packaging?
- Plastic never goes away – it is a durable material made to last forever, yet around 33% of it is disposed after just one use. It cannot biodegrade, it breaks down into smaller pieces and can remain in the environment for 2,000 years or longer (DiGregorio, 2009)
- Plastic spoils our groundwater – buried beneath each landfill site, plastic leachate full of toxic chemicals is seeping into groundwater and flowing downstream into lakes and rivers (Hopewell et al., 2009)
- Plastic threatens wildlife – entanglement, ingestion and habitat disruption all result from plastic ending up in the spaces where animals live. By 2050 it is predicted that there will be a 1:1 ratio of plastic to fish in the oceans by weight (Ellen MacArthur, 2016)
- Plastic poisons our food chain – even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their toxins. The substance displaces nutritive algae that creatures up the food chain require (Andrady, 2011)
- Plastic affects human health – chemicals leached by plastics are in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments (Harth, 2010)
- Plastic costs billions to abate – everything suffers: tourism, recreation, business, the health of humans, animals, fish and birds—because of plastic pollution. The financial damage continuously being inflicted is inestimable (UNEP, 2014)
Farmers market shopping also means you can buy locally-grown, seasonal produce that has a lower environmental impact. A significant amount of energy is needed to transport foods across countries to your plate. Buying locally produced food not only supports farmers in the UK, it also reduces the energy consumed, and therefore greenhouse gases emitted, getting the food to you. Similarly, as there is a shorter time between harvest and your table, it is less likely that the nutrient value of the food will have decreased (Michigan State University) as nutritional quality of fruit and vegetables is highest right after harvest and declines with time (CEFS, 2013). So you’re getting food with a greater nutritional content that also has a lower environmental footprint, win-win!