The Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza has opened the world’s first plastic free grocery aisle in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. The initiative is the result of a cooperation between Ekoplaza, a Dutch eco-conscious biological supermarket chain, and A Plastic Planet, a UK-based initiative seeking to reducing the usage of plastic packaging materials. Ekoplaza plans to implement the plastic-free aisle in all of their supermarkets, nationwide.
The plastic-free aisle contains more than 700 biological products, including sweets, snacks, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat, all plastic packaging-free. Rather than disposing of packaging all together, the products are wrapped in traditional packaging materials such as glass, cardboard, and metal, or in new and innovative compostable bio-materials that look like plastic but are made from wood-pulp or sugar beet, making them completely compostable. To help shoppers identify the plastic-free products, they are given a new label: The Plastic Free Mark. Even the fittings and the labels in the plastic-free aisle are plastic free.
Erik Does, chief executive of Ekoplaza, describes the initiative as “an important stepping stone to a brighter future for food and drink. . . We know that our customers are sick to death of products laden in layer after layer of thick plastic packaging. Plastic-free aisles are a really innovative way of testing the compostable biomaterials that offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic packaging.” (The Guardian)
In an interview with Dutch media outlet RTL Nieuws, Does explains that A Plastic Planet initiated the plastic-free aisle project, and had pitched it to various supermarkets, both in the UK and abroad, but without success. The Plastic Soup Foundation, an Amsterdam-based environmental foundation which serves as an environmental and sustainability advisor to Ekoplaza, connected the A Plastic Planet to Ekoplaza, and, according to Does, the supermarket chain was quick to accept the challenge.
Campaigners from A Plastic Planet and other environmental groups celebrate the project as a turning point in the war against plastic pollution. As Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, states: “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.” (The Guardian)
The initiative comes at a time of growing global concerns about the damaging effects of plastic waste on the environment. Scientists have warned that the widespread plastic pollution might lead to a permanent contamination of the natural world. Plastics debris in the oceans, for instance, end up in the stomachs of marine animals, impacting the entire food chain, which including us.*
A study published last year by the journal Science Advances notes that as of 2015, we have produced 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste. Only 9% of that waste was recycled while 79% ended up in landfills or in the environment.
Plastic packaging from the grocery retail sector accounts for a large share of this waste. For example, a study by The Guardian, describes that UK supermarkets alone produce more than 800,000 tones of plastic packaging waste a year.
Plastic packaging is all around us, supposedly for convenient sake, but our throwaway culture is leaving behind a massive footprint. As Ekoplaza mentions on its website, “Plastic packaging for foods and drinks lose their use after a few days, as we consume their content, but they continue to have a devastating impact on our earth for centuries to come.”
Ekoplaza plans to roll-out the plastic-free aisle in all of their 74 stores in the Netherlands, by the end of this year. While there have been other independent organic food stored who have gone packaging-free, — such as Original Unverpackt in Berlin, LØS Market in Copenhagen, and Zero Waste Market in Vancouver**—the initiative in the Netherlands is the first mass shift towards plastic-free, low waste shopping at a supermarket chain. Sutherland hopes that other supermarket will “follow Ekoplaza’s lead and introduce a plastic-free aisle at the earliest opportunity to help turn off the plastic tap.” (The Guardian)
* See more: Dutch Entrepreneur Plans Radical Clean-up of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Buddhistdoor Global)
** See more: Rise of the Zero-waste Supermarket (Buddhistdoor Global)
Plastic-free supermarket aisles see anti-waste go mainstream (Deutsche Welle)
World’s first plastic-free aisle opens in Netherlands supermarket (The Guardian)
World’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle debuts as momentum builds to reduce waste (CNN)
Het begin van onze plasticvrije reis (The start of our plastic free journey) (Ekoplaza)
Ekoplaza Lab (Ekoplaza)
Eerste plasticvrije pop-up store geopend in Oud-West (First plastic-free pop-up store opened in Oud-West) (AD)
Plasticvrije supermarkt opent in Amsterdam: ‘Plastic soep is een wereldwijd probleem’ (Plastic-free supermarket opens in Amsterdam: “Plastic soup is a global problem”) (RTL Nieuws)
Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made (Science Advances)