Annoyed to buy a plastic bag?

I’m going shopping and realize midway that I’ve forgotten my shopper despite all the good intentions. At the checkout counter I buy a plastic bag even though it is annoying. Sounds familiar?

During the past year several retail chains have begun charging a small price for plastic bags. Some more progressive shops have even stopped selling them altogether. Those people who are totally tired of the all too widespread plastic consumption spent a plastic-free March last Spring. To completely avoid plastic is, however, surprisingly difficult considering the way we live today. And we also use high-quality items where plastic is, so to speak, in its right place and endures decades of use: think of those design lamps or furniture.

Still, with a very small effort we could achieve a lot specifically in avoiding plastic trash. We’ve read good tip show to manage at the greens section without the little plastic baggies: some people always carry paper bags that they re-use over and over again, others have purpose-sewn baggies made of suitable fabrics. One could avoid plastic-bag annoyance at the checkout simply by always carrying a handy, foldable shopper or two.

In Finland the waste management practices are highly developed – since the beginning of year 2017 recycling also post-consumer plastic packaging has become possible. Therefore, in our own immediate environment the plastic trash problem isn’t as terribly visible as in the world’s oceans. An integral part of the plastics problem is that the amount of plastic that ends up in nature is impossible to measure – and therefore, environmental impact life cycle calculations do not include this trashing effect at all. Did you know, for example, that in environmental comparisons of shopping bags plastic bags are calculated as ‘recycled’ even if they mostly end up incinerated for energy as trash bags? As reported in Finnish media earlier this year the most ecological trash bag of all actually is plastic; but it is the thin kind, bought in a roll, and in the best case it is made of recycled material.

Luckily the world has once and for all woken up to the vicious problem of plastic waste ending up in nature and specially waters. Various initiatives and decisions to remediate the trashing issue – the so-called plastic spill – in the future have been made in both businesses and on the policy level in many countries. Alko’s goals regarding plastic include single-use accessories and the packaging of purchases. We aim at ramping down sales of single-use plastic bags by end of year 2020 l. Development in the right direction can already be seen in Alko stores: the sales of our plastic bags declined 14 per cent in January-June compared with the first half of 2017. (In Alko stores the plastic bags have come with a price since 1996 so there is nothing new to tell.) We will introduce substitute products in their stead; already during 2018 we are developing something new into our durable bags assortment. We also experiment with new practices: Alko store in Kerava, Southern Finland participates in ’Plastic-bag-free Kerava’ pilot project with which the town of Kerava is pursuing the status of the first plastic-bag-free town in Europe. Also, in the recently opened Alko store in Otaniemi, Espoo our assortment no longer includes single-use plastic bags.

I decided to add the packing of a foldable shopper in my laptop case into my evening routine as in the mad morning rush it gets left behind way too easily. What do you yourself do to avoid buying single-use plastic bags? And what kind of alternatives would you wish to find in Alko’s shopping bag assortment instead of plastic bags?

Laura Varpasuo

The writer is Alko’s Sustainability Manager who ponders upon throw-away culture in both personal as well as industrial and retail operations’ scale.