Dear Ben, Rupert and Wim
I’d like you to meet a long-standing, regular customer of Waitrose in a rapidly-changing consumer world…
I’m writing to you because I recently took part in a Marine Conservation Society challenge to give up buying single-use plastics for a month. The reasons for this were manifold and based on the information that an estimated lorry-load of plastics is entering our oceans every minute; that, unchecked, this could mean more plastic in our seas by 2050 than fish and further, that plastic doesn’t degrade and gets eaten by a large quantity of marine life and ultimately by us with potentially toxic results.
The immediate effect of this challenge was depressing. From spending a privileged twenty minutes a week online doing my weekly shop, I began spending on average two days + a week visiting fishmongers, butchers, small grocers and cheesemongers in order to gather my shopping without accruing plastic to go with it. This was partially due to the fact that I couldn’t buy two-thirds of my usual shop from Waitrose anymore because of the high level of non-recyclable plastic packaging on most of the products.
Many conversations along the way showed up a lot of people who also wanted a lot less non-recyclable packaging on their shop but didn’t have the time to do much about it and felt overwhelmed by the supermarket status quo.
It’s left me with the realisation that this is an important issue and that I can make a lot of personal changes. However, I also really need your help if I’m to be an ongoing Waitrose customer because within the existing infrastructure we just keep generating waste.
As far as I can establish, you are the primary influencers in product decision making at Waitrose. I would like to ask you to consider some of the following requests:
- Some toilet roll available either loose or in recyclable packaging
- Signage around the fresh vegetable section encouraging customers to bring or re-use their own small bags for this produce
- Some salad options in recyclable wrap – there are currently none that I could see
- More loose vegetables on offer
- Paper tags (or a better tagging solution) replacing plastic tags and stickers on individual fruit and vegetables and other items
- Organic butters available in paper packaging
- The removal of unnecessary plastic wrap on certain products like candles and cucumbers
- More recyclable plastic packaging on meat, fish, cheese, nuts, seeds and frozen vegetables.
- Giving people the option to use their own containers for deli counter products. (Apparently not an option at Edinburgh Morningside Branch or according to your customer care team online.)
- The replacement of non-recyclable rip-off lids with biodegradable cling film
- Overall non-recyclable plastic packaging on hundreds of products replaced with the recyclable kind. (A repeat of point 8 really but bigger…)
- The reduction of unnecessary films in product containers e.g. little windows in the cardboard, extra covers on tea boxes, extra covers on cereals within boxes and the biggest bug-bear of all, plastic security seals around glass jars. Please replace the latter with paper tag extensions from the existing labels on your own brand products.
- Pasta in recyclable packaging
- Offer an ethically packaged toothpaste brand
- Offer cleaning materials that are made from recyclable materials
- Offer some refillable options e.g. Ecover but also on items like oil, vinegars and shampoos.
- Flowers wrapped in recyclable paper or plastic as alternative to existing wrap
- Greeting cards in compostable wrap
This is not an exhaustive list but you get the gist. I would also ask that you convey this to your suppliers where applicable. It would certainly up their environmental credentials.
I understand all this is complicated and there are many influencing factors in how things get packaged. I also appreciate that you’ll be aware of what I’m writing about and I want to acknowledge how much Waitrose does already in this sphere. In particular, I’ve noticed and thank you for the following:
- Some loose fruit and vegetables
- Recycling information clearly marked on many plastic containers
- The availability of biodegradable cling film
- The availability of bamboo toothbrushes
- The Natracare products available
- That there are a version of KeepCups for sale by the coffee machine
- That you can now buy paper-based cotton wool buds
- That some frozen products are contained in cardboard
- A feta cheese provided in a recyclable plastic container
- Fresh, unpackaged bread
This list isn’t exhaustive either but you get the gist…
Returning to the reason for writing this letter, I’d like to help stem the plastic flow and I’d like your influential help given your existing commitment to ‘treading lightly.’ If my suggestions are not feasible, I’d be really interested to know what is.
And perhaps, it’s worth saying that these are issues are unlikely to go away now so for Waitrose to up its champion-status of this movement is enlightened and essential….
And very, very groovy….