Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Still bagging change

Back in August, I wrote a few times about New Zealand’s move away from single use plastic bags. It’s been a story that hasn’t been a straight line—is anything?—and progress is being made. We’ve probably all learned a lot along the way.

On August 23, I wrote about Countdown supermarkets switching from reusable bags to paper bags for deliveries. It didn’t happen quite as quickly as they implied it would. Last week, I received an email from them saying, “Over the coming weeks, online orders at your store will be packed into paper bags”. Back in August, I’d received an email from them declaring, “Shopping online? Your online order will now be packed into paper bags.” I have no idea what the delay was.

On the other hand, progress has been made. As their email last week put it:
With your help, we’ve stopped using single-use plastic carrier bags at checkouts and in our online shopping service, which means that 350 million of these plastic bags will no longer find their way to landfill, or worse, to our waterways and oceans.
An email from them in September said:
With your help, Countdown Pukekohe South alone has prevented on average 6,000 of these bags from entering New Zealand's waste stream – every single day.
Apparently, their copywriters struggle to phrase things in new ways so they—ahem—recycle phrasing. But another part of the September email caught my attention:
We're continuing to reduce and remove plastic from other parts of our store. Already this year, we've removed 70 tonnes of plastic from our produce section. And we'll be giving single-use plastic straws the flick from all our stores by 1 October 2018.
That last part certainly came true—they only sell paper straws now (though maybe they’ll eventually sell the reusable stainless steel straw sets that come with little cleaning brushes, like Storage Box is now selling).

They were talking about the single-use plastic bags that customers use to pack their produce, something my usual store was still using at that point, though apparently some stores had switched to paper. But that September email underscored a problem I’d already found.

I’d bought reusable mesh bags for produce and took them to Countdown when I did my grocery shopping. I needed some onions, so I put them in the bag, and then looked at the unit price: The price of the loose onions was actually higher than the unit price of a pre-packed bag. What this means is that it was costing me more money to avoid the plastic bag of the pre-packed onions.

Having said that, there were some advantages: I could choose onions so they were all the appropriate size for anything we might make, rather than the—literal—mixed bag of the pre-pack. And, once I got them home, I put them into an onion storage bag I’d also bought: It’s breathable, but it also blocks out light to discourage the onions going bad. It works really well. And, I had no plastic bag to get rid of. Still, I think that if I’m going to go to the trouble of packing my own onions, I ought to save a little over the pre-packed options.

Last week, I visited a grocery store I hadn’t been to before, New World in Papakura, and was very surprised: They weren’t pushing reusable bags. I brought my bags into the store, as I now always do, and I was pretty much the only shopper doing that. As I understand it, the Foodstuffs’ New World and Four Square stores will be single-use plastic bag free on January 1. Countdown already is, and I’d have thought that the New World, at least, would be, too, by now. The Australian-owned company that owns Countdown, Progressive, has a chain of smaller stores called Fresh Choice (which I gather is similar to Foodstuffs’ Four Square) that are advertising they're phasing out single-use plastic bags.

Today I stopped in our local Four Square, and they had a bunch of options for bags available—still single use plastic, but also some for purchase, from cheap heavy-duty plastic ones to large paper bags that looked similar to what I grew up with. The paper bags are what caught my attention.

The end of August, I talked about other bag problems, and part of what I needed was a solution for dealing with the cat box. I found that Countdown carried small paper bags they called “lunch bags”, but they were very small, the type used in any Kiwi dairy for packing pies, sausage rolls, and other yummy things—but single serving only. They were suitable for a small clean, but two days’ worth would overwhelm it.

I said in that late August post that most paper bags were expensive because I’d have to order them from a specialty supplier. Well, a few days ago I felt inspired: If anyone in New Zealand carried American-style flat bottom lunch bags, I had a hunch who would, and I was right. It turns out I can get the bags from Martha’s Backyard, the American products store I’ve mentioned frequently. They sell a 50-pack bag for $3.50 (today, about US$2.36). Those large bags I saw today at Four Square, sold for around 20 cents each (today about 13 US cents), would be perfect for major clean outs.

There are bags designed for dog poop, and I have some somewhere I can use up. But compostable versions are very expensive, so paper is a much cheaper alternative. This search is getting somewhere, though.

Which still leaves the problem of the kitchen bin. I said in that late August post that the home compostable bags I bought for our kitchen rubbish bin were too small and the sides could slide down. I found out that this meant the sides could easily stick to the plastic bin, and, being short, they left nothing to grab onto to pull the bags out. Worst, the last one I used ripped open when I tried to pull it out, and the rubbish went all over the floor (fortunately, since we compost, the rubbish wasn’t yucky).

When I was at New World, I found they sold the 60-litre “Extra Large” version of the compostable bin liner bags (apparently, there are even large ones…). The extra large ones are slightly wider—650mm rather than 600mm—but the important part is that they’re significantly deeper: 950mm rather than 710mm. This is large enough, but there are only five bags in a pack, rather than 15 in a pack of the smaller ones, which also means that the larger bags are $1.12 each (76 US cents) while the smaller ones are only 46 cents each (31 US cents). Theoretically, these should last up to two weeks per bag, since we don’t generate that much rubbish, but the price per bag is significantly higher. These larger ones have handles, like plastic ones often do, which so far seems to make them easier to remove.

So, this story that hasn’t been a straight line, but progress is being made all around. That’s the important point. I wouldn’t say it’s in the bag, though.

The products/companies listed and their names are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products used were purchased by me at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

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