With lockdown regulations having been relaxed a bit here recently, I was this past weekend harshly reminded of one of my Big Dislikes (pet hates) as I peeled off onto the highway in my car. I hadn’t had to look at one of those gargantuan, freestanding advertising billboards for some time, and I was not pleased as I spotted one in the distance, realizing then that within a few kilometers my senses were about to be assaulted in full colour. I could see the thing in the distance, preparing to stare me down as I got closer and closer. There are other things about city living that bother me almost as much, but these Leviathans hold a special (dark) place in my heart. And in these troubled Covid times, they somehow seem even more awkward, ugly and intrusive — out of place and out of step with the times.
Nude Foods in Zonnebloem, Cape Town is a bulk wholefoods store, offering a plastic-free shopping experience. They sell high quality wholefoods, fresh organic produce, home and body products, minus any wasteful packaging . In their own words: “Our bulk wholefoods, health foods, and earth-friendly products are all non-GMO, plastic-free and sold by weight. Our goal is to make plastic-free shopping easy and accessible to the everyday shopper, whilst supporting local suppliers and other waste reducing initiatives”. The process is simple: scoop out from their bulk bins into your reusable container, weigh, and pay. As well as the self-service bin section, they have pantry items, household products and choose-your-own organic veg. In the war on waste that is gaining traction here and elsewhere in the world, shopping experiences like this one comes not a moment too soon.
There they were: lovely glass-packaged, tasty looking tidbits, all glossy and tempting in their see-through casing, just waiting to be opened up with that nice Pop which you hear when you first unscrew the metal top. I was unpleasantly surprised and slightly shocked to find a cheap looking piece of whitish plastic, all leggy and holey, looking a bit futuristic and not remotely related to food.
The jar of pickles was a gift from a thoughtful family member and I was very pleased to receive it. The very same company makes a delicious red pepper chutney which I buy often. I like the brand: made locally in South Africa, using nice simple packaging, and always in glass. Their products are available on many supermarket shelves, but they are not really one of the mainstream brands, retaining a bit of a ‘niche market’ feel. So I like to support them. The last thing I expected was to find this plastic gizmo thingy when I first unpopped the lid. It took me a few moments to realise what it was: a little mini-sieve that fits in the neck of the jar so that the brine or oil can be poured out, leaving the whole pickles behind. I fished the ungainly little thing out thinking, “well at least it may be recyclable”. But that’s not the point. I object because:
- It adds nothing to my life: I have plenty of reusable metal sieves and strainers at home if I need help in separating solids from liquids. I appreciate that others might find this quite a handy little tool, but I do not. Especially not in plastic.
- I should have been given the option as to whether to purchase this item or not. If the manufacturer had thought to include in their labeling, “For your convenience this item includes a plastic mini-sieve”, I could have made an informed decision. (OK, this situation was different in that it was a gift, which makes things a bit more tricky)
- I am doing my best to reduce the amount of plastic that I bring home from the supermarket, and I do not appreciate unwelcome packaging surprises which now become my problem to dispose of.
- But most of all, I am generally just tired of irresponsible food packaging. Surely the manufacturers could have done better in this case!!? …Could they not at least rather use a more sustainable source of material than plastic? What about a nice, once-off little metal sieve as a promotional item to offset and enhance their product? This could have gone a long way towards showcasing themselves as an environmentally and health conscious brand who are setting themselves apart from the plastic brigade. And especially for an extraneous, non-essential item like this one which a lot of people will end up throwing in the trash, intentionally or otherwise: rather create something more hard wearing and attractive, not just another cheap, forgettable piece of plastic.
It feels like high time for food companies to dig deep and really consider the environmental impact of what they are using to package and label their products. And at the end of the day to think about the impression that their choice of packaging may be creating of themselves as a brand. Hopefully in the near future we will see more legislation in place to rule out this kind of irresponsible food packaging. In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy a light lunch: cup of tea, tuna salad, and pickles 🙂