As some of you know, we met with a large supermarket chain this week to discuss their unnecessary and excessive use of plastic wrapped produce, and I'm happy to report it went very well with the people of City'Super. Although it wasn't all roses, they were welcoming, open and willing to listen to all of our suggestions. And though they resisted some ideas, they also responded quite positively to many others.
Myself, Dana Winograd (Director of Operations, Plastic Free Seas) and Emily Botsford (ADM Capital Foundation) all met with the Head of Product Development (HPD) and here is a report of the positives takeaways!
- We asked if all of the weighing of produce could be done at the till with the cashier, instead of in the produce area. This would eliminate any need for pre-bagging items together in a plastic bag and putting a price tag on it, as well as customers being given another produce bag when the store employee weighs it for them before checkout. (I don't know about you, but in my country this is just normal!) The HPD was very keen on this idea and thought it was feasible and made sense. Yay!
- We asked City'Super to allow customers to bring their own reusable bags and containers for deli/cooked food/butcher/produce items and anything else that they sell in a takeaway fashion. This would also entail educating all of their staff to know how to weigh items using customer's bags/containers/etc. She also responded positively to this idea and felt this would be something they could implement in the near future. We also said that once they're ready to move forward with this, they'll need to promote this "Bring Your Own" philosophy so customers know their options, and that incentivizing them to do this would be even more amazing. It will be very interesting to see how this one goes.
- We were given details, from the Ocean Recovery Alliance, about a company in Tsuen Wan who recycles those styrofoam "socks" we often see on fruits and veggies, and unfortunately, on our beautiful beaches. We suggested that City'Super collect these "socks" from the produce before putting them out for purchase, and then courier the collected socks to the plant in Tsuen Wan for recycling. She was very open to this idea, and I'm happy to report, she will be meeting with the owner and operator of this recycling plant to discuss further details in the next couple of weeks. I feel like this is such great progress!
- We asked if they would consider only offering paper bags at the bakery and they said no pretty quickly because the bread items could be "greasy". We then suggested that instead of their employees automatically bagging the bread items into a plastic bag, that they could instead ask if the customer would like plastic or paper. Since they wouldn't completely eliminate the plastic bag as an option, we hope that this question will stimulate awareness in the customer and that when given the choice, many will be encouraged to choose paper.
- They are currently trying to source more sustainable packaging for their fruit and vegetables and have recently introduced trays made from sugar cane (although this is then wrapped in plastic wrap, eek!), and takeaway cutlery and produce bags made from PLA, a vegetable based product. The PLA does come with it's own problems though. Firstly, it shouldn't be put into the plastic recycling system, but often is, because people don't know the difference between PLA and plastic. Also, we're not entirely sure if PLA is non-toxic due to the probable use of GMO corn. So we accepted this "positive" cautiously.
- She was very intrigued by other paper-based options I had sent her previously that could "protect" the produce from damage and will be investigating these further.
- They are currently collecting all of their store's food waste for composting, but no one knows this! We encouraged them to engage more with their customers and let them know the great things they are currently doing that benefit the planet. We suggested creating a sustainability page on their website as a means of communication.
- I shared with her the zero-waste lifestyle and it's growing community, and that many many people are inspired by this movement and want to shop as waste-free as possible. If they offered, say, a bulk section with rice, beans, shampoo, lotion, etc, where we could come with our reusable bags and jars to collect these items, their customer base would grow and they would be evolving as a company in such a positive way. She was actually very aware of this movement and in agreement that this would be a good idea. I was so excited she even knew what I was talking about!
I will continue to keep you updated about the progress being made and any new developments. And get armed and ready with your reusable bags and containers, because it won't be long until you need them!
(And as a sidenote, I take my own reusable containers to Fusion and Wellcome here in Sai Kung for deli and butcher items, and have been 100% successful. No problems at all. So maybe give it a try next time you head to the shops and maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised as well!)