Thousands leave plastic behind in shops on day of action

Irish activists engage in a ‘shop and drop’ to highlight levels of unwanted packaging

Thousands of shoppers across the country left their unwanted plastic packaging behind them at their local supermarket on Saturday after removing it from their purchased items, in a “shop and drop” day of action.

More than 400 volunteers registered for the campaign day with Friends of the Earth (FoE) Ireland, which organised the event with Voice.

The event was supported by many outlets of major supermarkets, who provided extra bins at checkouts for the occasion. Some stores have confirmed they will retain the bins on a permanent basis.

Meaghan Carmody of FoE said the groups' "Sick of Plastic" campaign was "a simple way for shoppers to let supermarkets know that we want them to use less plastic packaging".


She added: “The supermarkets knew we were coming and most put out bins for people to put the unwanted packaging in. Now we need them to make lasting changes that give customers an easy way to choose less plastic in future.”

Volunteer Anita Murphy, who led the "shop and drop" at the Tesco on Headford Road, Galway, from 10am to 5pm, said there had been "a great response from shoppers".

She said more than 700 people had signed a petition calling on supermarkets to reduce plastic; deploy compostable packaging, and create plastic-free shopping aisles.

Organisers were not in a position to confirm how much plastic was returned in the Tesco branch.

“The most important thing was about education and increasing awareness,” she added.

She said Dunnes Stores in Knocknacarra had not supported the day of action, but the Aldi, Lidl and SuperValu outlets in Galway city did.

Madeleine Murray of Plastic-Free Kinsale said the day went "really well". Her team of three volunteers had added a learning component by, for example, explaining differences between hard and soft plastics and their consequences for the environment. "People were really engaged."

A lot of soft plastic was deposited in a large bin provided by the Smith's SuperValu outlet in the Co Cork town.

Sustainable future

The main packaging recycling company in Ireland – Repak – said its members, which include most major supermarket groups, were committed to a sustainable future and have helped recycle more than 1 million tonnes of plastic packaging since 1997.

Repak chief executive Séamus Clancy said: “Our members are increasing recyclable and reusable packaging in their stores and reducing the amount of plastic packaging both through their own initiatives and with the help of our dedicated packaging technologists in Repak, who run our ‘Prevent and Save’ programme.”

Already, supermarkets who are Repak members are removing excess packaging from products throughout the supply chain.

In addition, they are increasing the use of reusable packaging – such as pallets, crates and trays – and are changing materials to increase recyclability.

"We are currently achieving a plastic recycling rate of 34 per cent, well ahead of our current EU target of 22.5 per cent, which places Ireland as one of the top performers in Europe when it comes to plastic recycling," he added.

However, he also said: “We all must do more and we must be more ambitious with our recycling in future.”

Plastics strategy

Repak intends to publish a comprehensive national plastics strategy this summer to identify a path for Ireland to boost its plastic recycling over coming years, Mr Clancy confirmed.

The strategy would require actions from across all sections of society, including producers, retailers, consumers and the Government.

FoE head of communications Dr Cara Augustenborg said: "Supermarkets are in the privileged position to be able to influence brands and manufacturers to change their packaging to more benign materials, yet few Irish retailers have shown any intent to address the mounting seas of plastic surrounding our shores."

FoE, Voice and Zero Waste Ireland have called for three measures to address plastic pollution in Ireland, including a deposit and return scheme on plastic bottles and cans; a levy on single-use plastic items, and a ban on microplastics in cosmetics and personal care products.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times