Supermarkets need to do more to halt “the rising tide of plastic”, according to the organisers of a day of action targeting excess packaging and plastic.
The “Shop and Drop” event, due to take place on Saturday April 21st, will see shoppers urged to politely leave packaging at the checkout. The action is being organised by the “Sick of Plastic Campaign”.
However, Retail Ireland – which represents major supermarkets – has warned those taking part that they should be aware that their actions have "litter law implications".
The environmental groups VOICE and Friends of the Earth (FoE) Ireland, who are heading the campaign, have suggested that the public should shop and pay as usual and then to remove packaging and leave it at the checkout
FoE director Oisín Coghlan called for supermarkets to provide recycle bins in which shoppers could place the packaging. “More and more of the plastics being used for packaging are not recyclable. We want supermarkets to do their bit for reducing packaging,” he added.
When asked on Newstalk Breakfast radio programme about supermarket staff who would have to cope with the discarded packaging, Mr Coghlan said he had nothing but sympathy for them. "We are not targeting them. Consumers can politely ask 'where would you like us to leave this' on the day."
However, Retail Ireland director Thomas Burke said supermarkets were concerned about what was being proposed, which was a singling out of outlets and "effectively advocating the littering of supermarkets".
There were significant mechanisms in place for the recycling of packaging and plastics through Repak and the kerbside green bin system which was being funded by a levy on retailers and manufacturers, he said. While these businesses were making significant contributions towards recycling, the industry was consistently reviewing packaging and trying to find innovative solutions, especially in relation to plastics, he pointed out.
A certain level of plastic was needed for food safety purposes, but retailers did not use excess packaging because it was costly, Mr Burke said.
In theory, the EU Packaging Directive means the producer takes responsibility for packaging waste and the consumer is allowed to leave it behind, according to FoE spokeswoman Dr Cara Augustenborg.
“However, Irish retailers have thus far gotten around this through Repak’s voluntary compliance scheme. I’ve been told the public were never consulted about Repak and most retailers no longer post any information about what it means with respect to packaging waste in their stores. Therefore, any consumer could plead ignorance about Repak and presume all Irish retailers are legally obliged to comply with the EU Packaging Directive.”
Technically, leaving plastic packaging behind could be perceived as “littering”, Dr Augustenborg said, but it would be the same kind of littering that you find when people leave popcorn containers in cinemas or beverage containers at sporting events. “Thus, we’d be very surprised if a retailer actually decided to take legal action as you never hear about a cinema or sports facility doing so.”
“However, we want to be responsible. So we’re writing to all grocery chains and local stores in advance of the action to ask them to work with us and provide a place on the day in which people can choose to leave their packaging behind,” she said.
She believed local managers and cashiers were equally sick of plastic and interested in seeing top-down action from retailers. “It’s clear the Repak approach isn’t working, given the mounting plastic waste in Ireland and the fact that over half of it is not recyclable, so this day of action is about the public standing up to uphold the intention of the EU Packaging Directive,” she added.
To a certain degree retailers have to take back packaging, Mr Burke said, but this was through Repak or self compliance schemes. “They do that currently.”