At the beginning of 2017, I started to buy some of my weekly grocery at the Herdsman Supermarket.
I positively noticed the use of EPI degradable plastic bags* both at the cash out and at the fruit & vegetables stalls, instead of traditional plastic bags. But what really surprised me was the counter display that clearly promotes the “bring your own bag” habit. I do believe that getting people involved is a good way to promote habit changes and this “Thermometer Progress Bar” is clearly showing which is our goal as a community.
I got in touch with Erin, the Operations Manager, and I proposed her to tell me more about her company commitment to sustainability, from an industry point of view. Particularly, I was interested to know more about law restrictions (if any), supplier limitations, additional costs, and customer understanding of environmental friendly proposals within the supermarket.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a sponsored post! It is part of my voluntary research of sustainable initiatives in Perth, with the aim to raise awareness in the community and to promote businesses that care about the environment.
We met for a coffee at the Blah Blah Bar located inside the supermarket (where, in the meantime, I promoted the Responsible Cafes initiative as well 😉 ) and we started to talk about our common passion for the environment. Then, Erin clearly pointed out that the Herdsman Supermarket is a medium size store that count on a different variety of clients. It isn’t an organic or loose food niche shop with only like minded customers. Therefore, her strategy is to propose different options to different kind of customers, in order to make everybody happy, while pushing everyday a bit more towards environmental friendly products.
At the moment, the Herdsman is supporting the following sustainable shopping options:
A) Supermarket bags – you can choose between:
– Bring your own (always the best choice!)
– Buy the Herdsman reusable bags (and next time bring them with you ;))
– Use recycled cardboards for free (good option / better to reuse them more than once)
– Buy Herdsman paper bags (good option, but they still have an environmental impact / better to reuse them more than once)
– Use EPI degardable plastic bags for free (better than standard plastic bags, but they still have an environmental impact*)
B) Loose food: there is a big variety of loose fruit & veg, as well as packaged products. Erin told me that many customers prefer pre-packaged, because it is easier to get them from the shelves and they can clearly see the price without doing any calculation! I believe that this is an habit that we should try to change, as packaged food carries a lot of unnecessary plastic on its way.
Another option could be to offer pre-price products in reusable containers that must be left at the counter. Customers will know the exact price in advance, but they will bring home loose food only!
On the other hand, some delicate products like strawberries and cherry tomatoes, come already packaged from the suppliers, because they can easily get damaged if people can touch them.
I can understand their point of view, so I have started to collect my empty tomatoes punnets and last week I gave them back to fruit&veg department at a local grocery shop. At the beginning the staff was really surprised, but then they told me that as they package their tomatoes directly in the shop, they will reuse my empty plastic punnets. I hope it is true and I will investigate more in the future 😉 Imagine how great would be if everyone could bring their clean empty packaging back to be reused in the store!
This could work also for ready to eat packaged food such as fruit salads and pasta. They are getting popular in many supermarkets, but unfortunately there is again a lot of plastic involved.
C) Organic food: there is an organic food section as well, even if, due to high market prices, it is not yet very popular.
D) Produce bags: only EPI degadable plastic bags* are available to customers. It is a good option, but remember that is always better to buy loose food and to place it directly in your trolley. Otherwise you can go for reusable produce bags or reuse your plastic bags.
Furthermore, the Herdsman is promoting sustainability within the management with the following initiatives:
1) Staff training: about environmental friendly activities and how to raise customers awareness i.e.: promoting the use of Bring Your Own (BYO) bags
2) Waste management: all the supermarket waste is sorted between general waste, recyclable and green waste. Particularly green waste goes to the Richgro Bioenergy Plant located in Jandakot. The facility, first of this kind in Australia, can process more than 35,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial organic waste a year, with the scope to handle 50,000 tonnes, therefore diverting this from landfill. Using this feedstock, it has the capacity to produce up to 2 megawatts of electricity and 2.2 megawatts in heat.
(Source: Waste Management Review)
3) Expired food: staff is incentivated to bring it home. Erin is currently investigating about companies that collect food and give it to charities, like OZ Harvest.
4) Coffee grounds: team members can bring them home to boost their compost
So, well done the Herdsman and I am looking forward to hearing from you about new sustainable initiatives!
Thanks to Erin for her availability to meeting me and sharing her experience with Think About Sustainability.
*NOTE: Which is the difference between Degradable and Biodegradable Bags?
This is a very interesting topic, not so easy to understand.
What is important to remember is that Degradable and Biodegradable bags are very different. Indeed:
– Degradable bags are still made of traditional plastic with some special additives. At a first stage they will break into very small pieces of plastic. Then, only after a certain amount of time and under certain conditions, they will eventually start to biodegrade. This is currently the focus of a great deal of research and debate.
– Biodegradable bags, instead, are made from plant-based materials like corn and wheat starch rather than petroleum. They can be transformed by micro-organisms and “return to the earth”, but, once again, it will happen under certain conditions. i.e: is better not to put them in your compost bin
Additionally, both Degradable and Biodegradable bags need energy to be produced. As a result, the best option is to avoid the use of plastic.
Customers can easily do it bringing their own bags.
For businesses, the best would be to promote environmental friendly habits and, if necessary, to provide biodegradable bags.
– Green Plastics website
– 1MillionWomen website
– Lia Griffith: DIY Reusable produce bags tutorials