To start with, more than 700 products will be available without plastic packaging in the designated section.
Today marks a milestone in the fight against plastic pollution. At 11 o'clock local time, a supermarket in Amsterdam called Ekoplaza opened the first-ever plastic-free aisle. The aisle features more than 700 food items, including meats, sauces, yogurts, cereals, and chocolate; and, as unbelievable as it sounds, there's not a speck of plastic in sight -- only cardboard, glass, metal, and compostable materials.
Sian Sutherland is the co-founder of A Plastic Planet, the environmental organization behind supermarket chain Ekoplaza's initiative to rid its shelves of plastic. She is celebrating today, calling it a "landmark moment for the global fight against plastic pollution." She told the Guardian:
"For decades shoppers have been sold the lie that we can’t live without plastic in food and drink. A plastic-free aisle dispels all that. Finally we can see a future where the public have a choice about whether to buy plastic or plastic-free. Right now we have no choice."
Ekoplaza CEO Erik Does says this is something his company has been working on for years, that it's "not just a marketing trick." The company plans to add plastic-free aisles to all of its 74 stores by the end of 2018.
What's interesting about the plastic-free aisle concept is that the products are still packaged, only in better, more eco-friendly versions of packaging. I suspect it will do extremely well because most shoppers value convenience above all else. Many cannot be bothered to remember their own containers or bags for filling at a bulk food store, but dislike the idea of hauling all that extra plastic home. This offers the perfect middle ground.
It's not entirely accurate for Sutherland to say that plastic-free choices did not exist before. They did, and continue to exist in every other supermarket; it just takes time, stubbornness, and money to sniff them out. For example, I can buy plastic mesh bags of 5 avocados for $4, or loose avocados at $2 apiece. Peanut butter in plastic is $4.99, whereas it's $6.99 in a smaller glass jar. The choice is there, but it's not a convenient one, which is why the plastic-free aisle should do well.
The good news is that campaigners say the products will not be any more expensive than plastic-wrapped goods. (That seems surprising, but great if it's actually the case.) The Guardian reports that items will be "scalable and convenient, using alternative biodegradable packing where necessary rather than ditching packaging altogether."
Don't confuse a plastic-free aisle with zero-waste shopping, however. The two concepts are quite different, and zero waste advocates would likely point out that a plastic-free aisle still results in excessive and unnecessary packaging that must go through the recycling process (which we know is fairly useless) or into the trash, neither of which is desirable. Reduction and avoidance should be our ultimate goal.
Nevertheless, kudos to Ekoplaza and A Plastic Planet for their fabulous work on this front. This is only the beginning of a major shift in the way people buy their food. Learn more in the short video below.