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Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

Of course everything is for the convenience of the supermarkets today; from the limited selection of varieties in fruit and vegetables, to product lines (though some say they offer too many choices which is apparently causing some shoppers to be stressed).

I suspect that while you might now find the same varieties pretty much everywhere in the western world the choice everywhere is still greater than it was back in the olden days. All that has really happened is that consumer power, driving both choice and efficiency (e.g. higher yielding plants produce cheaper produce) is exercised more effectively at a national/supranational level now, and was exercised at a more local level before the days of supermarkets and cheap logistics.

Time was too when your fruit and veg were local produced and delivered to the supermarkets in wooden crates which were used to display the veg and returned to the grower afterwards.

Again, the question is as to whether this is really more environmentally attractive. It was done because it was cheaper to make wooden crates and pay people to haul them empty back to the producer. Now - by and large - labour is more expensive and stuff cheaper, so cardboard and plastic are used instead, and probably not as efficiently as they could be. They're too cheap to worry about. This is a problem because the market does a bad job of pricing in future scarcity, especially when the extent of that scarcity is unknown. Sucking our non-finite supply of crude oil from under the Saudi desert and turning it into styrofoam to cut food waste by 10% might make economic sense on a day-to-day level, but it's grossly wasteful seen on a longer timescale.

(my brother in law suggests that we evolved with a diet based around the seasonal availability of some foods and that it may not necessarily be good for us to have the year round availability of some fruit and veg.

This sounds highly unlikely, unless anyone is still eating a typcial pre-agricultural diet. Almost all of the food plants we eat today are the result of hundreds of years of crude genetic engineering. We're interested in - and have selected for, high yield of palatable and nutritious tissue. The plant is interested in reproduction and in the absence of human intervention may take a completely different evolutionary route.

It will be interesting to see how the Totnes experiment progresses as they try to encourage a local area self-sufficiency...

I am loathe to comment since I know nothing about this, but the language (self-sufficiency) sounds somewhat North Korean in ideology. If local self sufficiency were still economically viable, then market forces would have preserved it. As it happens, transport is a fraction of the cost of "way back when", and economise of scale can now be brought to bear on global, as opposed to merely local, markets. For sure you can have your guaranteed locally produced fruit and veg and lifestyle circa 1920 - but if you want to live on it exclusively you'll also have to spend far more of your income on food, and spend a lot of time saying "oh, not flippin' boiled/mashed/fried -insert name of largest local crop- again!!!"

Terrible mistake

Edit - "non-finits supply of crude oil" should, obviously, have read "finite supply of crude oil".

Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

Before: Supermarkets provided free plastic bags that people reused as refuse bin liners.

Now: Supermarkets sell durable bags that people have to reuse to carry their food home or pay for new ones. In addition, people need to buy especially made plastic bags to use as refuse bin liners, or go without.

I guess I know why some manufacturers have joined the greenie bandwagon. And it has nothing to do with being green.

Re: Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

I have an acquaintance who, prior to retiring, at various times owned and managed plastic bag manufacturing companies.

The Bag for Life concept would save the supermarket money despite the potential perpetual replacement. In effect few people claimed the replacement.

Disposable bags were not too expensive back then. I believe they are mainly made from oil production waste chemicals some of which would have to be burned off if not used. Nowadays the bags seem thinner than ever (as does most packaging) and so presumably uses less raw material. Progress. Also most are biodegradable in reasonable timescales.

Overall there is little if any case for a greenie based ban as the case is presented.

for the Greenies it is symbolic. For the bag manufacturers it is a way to make turnover or, in the case of the EU, deal with disposal regulations by eliminating the most visible problem.

I think Jaime has it exactly right. Global Businesses, hated by the Greens, have realised that they can outsmart the opposition by using Green philosophy to encourage governments to pass laws to enforce changes that would otherwise either not happen (think light bulbs) or would cost a fortune in marketing overhead for market creation. Making changes a legal requirement is really rather clever, though very annoying to the captive consumers.


Re: Re: Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

I don't think supermarkets secretly favour a plastic bag ban or tax, Grant. The reason I say this is that there was an attempt to introduce a plastic bag tax (10p per bag) in Scotland in 2006 but it was killed off by objections from the retail sector.

A list of organisations who objected to the proposed Bill are given on this webpage:


Amongst the organisations objecting were Asda, UK subsidiary of Wal-Mart and second biggest supermarket chain in the UK after Tesco, and the Scottish Retail Consortium. Even more political correct shopping chains like the Co-op and the Association of Charity Shops objected to a plastic bag tax.

The website in the link above is the Carrier Bag Consortium (CBC), a lobby group set up to lobby against plastic bag taxes by the Packaging and Industrial Films Association.

I see the 'bag for life' idea as being a sensible counter-tactic to anti-plastic bag activists, who are claiming widespread public support with dodgy opinion poll surveys. According to CBC they are asking the misleading starting question "would you mind paying a 10 pence tax to help save the environment, as in Ireland." So if the public really does support curbs on plastic bags then surely they would buy the durable bags.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life


I don't think the supermarkets want to have bags banned either, but cost reduction they like, so long as their free residual advertising (or perhaps just brand re-inforcement?)on the bags is retained.

People have been having a pop at Tesco for years (what was that saying about any publicity is good publicity?) but seem to forget that the grocery trade at almost any level is, ultimately, low margin when considered as a whole. Hence the move into some of the higher margin product groups like electrical.

As far as bags go, not unlike the lightbulb fiasco, if it offers then a moral 'defence' against the greens - who they want in the stores as they often tend to be the ones who will buy the higher margin 'organic' produce - whilst retaining the advertising it then can move people on to own brand long life bags which are paid for. It could also cut costs PROVIDED customers forget to claim replacement bags during a 'for life' scheme - which mostly they will.

My wife buys the **** things specifically to avoid using the plastic boxes and stupid yellow bags we have been provided with for recycling purposes. So every other week we put out 3 or 4 bag's for life bags with newspaper, plastic bottles and so on in them, not expecting or wanting any of them back (Wet, dirty and if they are returned as they seem often to be these days, stuffed into the bin so they don't blow away and therefore rather too mucky to be used again from my wife's point of view.)

Unintended consequences. Wonderful things.

From my point of view I am happy that I don't have to buy bin liners for the small waste bin in the kitchen. The supermarket bags work well enough for that so long as one checks for holes in the bottom before deployment.

And they all seems to be very thin and biodegradable these days so it is not really clear to me where the problem lies.

Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

I rather think that it is not consumer power that has shaped the supermarkets but rather, the ability of the supermarkets to circumvent consumer power.
There has never been a Ralph Nader in the UK.
There is a great deal of psychology in how supermarkets operate, the psychology of manipulating the masses.
Visit any supermarket and you will find the flowers at the entrance followed by the fruit and veg.
Packaging, colours layout etc are all carefully studied to generate the maximum sales. Studies have shown, apparently, that playing soft slow classical music increases wine shop sales by as much as 17% and shifts purchasing to the higher priced wines.
What is recognised is that the primitive brain stem, that part responsible for fight or flight, periodically overcomes the more modern logical thinking part of the brain. Sales training today teaches salesmen how to present information that targets the emotion rather than logic because it is emotion that govern the majority of decisions.
As Cicero (BC106-BC43) said "Men decide far more problems by hate, love, lust, rage, sorrow, joy, hope, fear, illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality, authority, any legal standard, judicial precedent, or statute".
Thus to suppose that the supermarkets are what the people actually want or would choose is questionable as is the contention that this is a result exclusively of the populations actions producing the outcome they desire. If populations could decide and shape their environment in such a manner then no doubt we would have more sensible speed laws, we would not be taxed so heavily nor subjected to so much nannying. On the contrary, it is the ability of the minority to manipulate the masses that is a dominant characteristic of our society, any society. All too often it manifests itself as the totalitarian state.

Surprising too to hear that an initiative in self sufficiency by the Totnes people, who have even issued their own Totnes Pund so that money circulates within their own community, is described as "North Korean". I would like to have that one explained to me as i understand it not at all. The motivation for the Totnes people is apparently based on a presumption that sooner or later fuel costs or availability will become such that supplying communities "at the end of the supply chain" will become a very expensive business, if it is tenable at all and hence they are seeking a degree of self-sufficiency. A sort of community "Tom and Barbara" (The Good Life) type of thing. In this ountry, during the war, there was a "Dig for Victory" campaign. That seems to be a good idea, and environmentally sound. Of course, with 60 million people, this country is no more able to be self-sufficient than it was then but anything that helps ease the burden could be very rewarding not just economically but also emotionally for those people who take back some of the control of their lives into their own hands.
How many people are there who use the supermarkets but who actually find that they do not enjoy or really wish to do so.
In retail, the consumer is someone to be manipulated to spend as much as possible on goods he neither wanted nor is ever really happy with. That is why advertising is employed, not simply to attract the consumer into one store rather than another but to create a need to buy a product they would otherwise have no impulse to buy.
The supermarkets did not develop in response to the needs of the buying public but the sellers needs to generate more profitable means to sell goods. It is no bad thing for the population to be aware that they are being manipulated and to take what steps they can to divorce themselves from the process.
In all probability, however, the success of the Totnes initiative will probably be just as dependent on the emotional rather than the logical as the supermarket model.

Re: Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

I rather suspect there are a lot of Ralph Naders in the UK, most of them in the Law and politics where their selective presentations of 'facts', all provided 'altruistically' and presented as a public service, are rarely the subject of proper scrutiny.

Yes there are entire industries involved with selling us stuff we don't really need. In fact almost everything is based on Want rather than Need. It is part of human nature. We will continue to obtain stuff we don't need but do want for some reason even in a Totnes self sufficiency scenario. Any society that does not have that general inclination will have been stuck in the stone age centuries ago.

Half the time I think these 'special concepts' are pressnted that way by the consultants who advise on them. What have they to sell otherwise?

If we are going to respond to sensual stimulus, which we are, where is the harm in using it? (other than in the perfume departments in Boots where the aromas can become unbearable.)

Most people know of the existence of these influences but simply don't much care.

What the shops have not figured out is that their Xmas sales figures are probably warse than they expect BECAUSE of their attempts to use people's senses (auditory in that case) to buy more crap that no one needs at all for any reason. I have taken to actively avoiding shopping for anything but essentials from October to December when things are at their worst.

Your Cicero quote proves that there is nothing new in the approach, other than deeper studies and changing marketing structures. Actually, looking at his comparisons, in the modern world the distinction between 'illusion' and 'reality' is pretty blurred and I'm not at all convinced that "authority, any legal standard, judicial precedent, or statute." offer a better basis as they are used in modern times. In fact it canbe difficult to distinguish between Ciceros alternatives more often than not as they appear in the modern world.

" On the contrary, it is the ability of the minority to manipulate the masses that is a dominant characteristic of our society, any society. All too often it manifests itself as the totalitarian state."

True, but I don't think that can be proposed as a justification for the supermarket argument. Not unless all supermarkets are owned and run by the State.

In times past we had several brands selling the same relatively simple produce offerings and quite limited fresh vegetable selections from what I remember. Certainly seemed that way at meal times.

Now there are probably fewer brands but a wider selection of produce. Does that fit with a policy of minority control?

I sincerely hope that the Totnes 'currency' has the primary aim of avoiding taxation.

If, on the other hand, they are doing what they are doing due to worries about global fuel availability in the near future I have to assume that whatever the leaders were smoking back in their teens has clearly had an adverse effect on their view of reality.

"That seems to be a good idea, and environmentally sound. Of course, with 60 million people, this country is no more able to be self-sufficient than it was then but anything that helps ease the burden could be very rewarding not just economically ..."

How is it environmentally sound?

Why do people think that operating as if we were at war and the implication that supplies are likely to be seriously restricted for a number of reasons is a good and viable thing to do?

If you need to grow stiuff so that you can eat for part of the year because you have no options to buy it - for whatever reason - fair enough. But otherwise I really cannot see how the average person can gain more for themselves or offer more to the society in which they exist by allocating their time to micro-agriculture. If they only do it for reasons of personal emotional reward (presumably expecting to be bailed out by others if it doesn't give then enough to live on) it seems like a very selfish approach.

The OPT might like it though - should reduce the population nicely once people are too old and infirm to grow enough food for themselves.

"That is why advertising is employed, not simply to attract the consumer into one store rather than another but to create a need to buy a product they would otherwise have no impulse to buy."

In part, yes. But several decades ago a friend, whose father was a senior executive in the food undustry for a household name breakfast cereal manufacturer, told me that if the cereal manufacturer stoppped advertising their ubiquitous product for about 3 months sales would fall off by 13% taking the entire profit and more with them.

Fickle things, we humans. We need to be constantly reminded to buy things.

We do things because we want to do things. When times are hard we park most of 'want' for a while and focus on need. From the description of the Totnes model, unless tings get really tough down there, I can't see where the 'need' comes from. It could be a short lived experiment. (Does it qualify to be called an experiment?)


Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

...the ability of the supermarkets to circumvent consumer power.
...the psychology of manipulating the masses.

Of course this goes on! Still, if the supermarkets are catering to an emotional need, know it, know how to do it better than the competition, and exploit that knowledge and ability as much as they can, they are still, ultimately, giving people what they want! Just like the demise of the free bag (I live in Germany and have largely lost touch with what's happening in the UK, but supermarket bags are 10 cents here, which must represent a pretty good profit margin), with which they are appearing "green" and making consumers feel good by reducing the waste per supermarket trip by 0.01% when there are probably other things they could do with far more impact on waste. That practice adds value to the supermarket run to consumers who, for the token sacrifice of being forced to reuse their bags, can feel a whole lot better about how wonderfully green they are, as they load up the boot of the V6-engined BMW with vegetables flown in from halfway around the world. Of course it's manipulative, but you can't say it isn't giving people what they want!

Thus to suppose that the supermarkets are what the people actually want or would choose is questionable...

Well, I would say the supermarkets are giving people what they actually want. It's up to individuals to realise when they make nonrational choices and when their propensity to do so is being manipulated, and react accordingly. Or not, if they prefer being emotional rather than rational beings. In practice, most of us are a mixture of the two.

...the Totnes people, who have even issued their own Totnes Pund so that money circulates within their own community, is described as "North Korean".

Well, I didn't know that fact - but it gets even more North Korean by the post. Having some kind of community (government) diktat that restricts the free flow of capital is a strong parallel with North Korea. The rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction to Totnes. My initial contention was the NK is very keen on "self-reliance" - it largely eschews trade with the outside world (and places severe restrictions on the flow of capital), with predictable consequences for their economy.

...they are seeking a degree of self-sufficiency.

There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't see the point in dictating that self-sufficiency will exist on the village level and the village level only. Sure, every village needs a shop, but it doesn't need an investment bank, university, or pharmaceutical company, provided it trades with those instutions elsewhere. If we want village-only self sufficiency we will have village-only services. Instead we need to be self-sufficient at the family, town, national, european, and global levels in different things.

In all probability, however, the success of the Totnes initiative will probably be just as dependent on the emotional rather than the logical as the supermarket model.

I agree. It sounds like it is driven by a combination of socialist ideology and nostalgia.

Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

This is an overlooked aspect of the use of Petroleum Products and the continuing growth of that industry. Packages are mostly plastic, are hard to open, and increase weight to be transported.
Consider, which I am sure all the posters have, that this simple idea, to reduce shoplifting and to preserve products from deterioration is the basis for our continued dependency on Oil. Not to even mention the landfills useage.
This is a hidden aspect of the Oil Products useage we have in our society.
Would it be correct to say. Lets dig out all these hidden useage items, across the USA spectrum, offer reasonable solutions after a due and diligent R and D effort to identify the ramifications of imposing a solution?
Hit and Miss,do gooders, Social ills fixes, without a reasonable assurance that the imposed solution will work, without causing more problems, seems to be our modus operandi.

Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

I noticed that recently the local supermarket has taken to bagging bunches of bananas.
This is not an aid to shipping, since they come in the same cardboard boxes as ever and which are still simply opened up and placed on the shelf.
So again, why?
Compare the local greengrocer with the supermarket and see how many products are pre-wrapped in the supermarket by comparison.
The supermarket carrier bags are a diversion. Doing away with them isn't really doing anything.
In our house it will mean buying more bin liners so we have an added cost and an added profit but a doubtful benefit.
Sorry, but supermarkets seem obsessed with packaging. The supermarket bags are simply a minor part of all that packaging burden.

Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

Bagging bananas causes them to ripen quickly which means they are more likely to end up as waste after you get them home. It also makes it more difficult for the customer to screen out imperfect fruit (every pre-packed bag of onions has a bad one in, doesn't it?). Believe me - they'll have done their sums on this - bagging (unless done at the supermarket itself) will increase pre-sale waste, but if that is outweighed by increased overall sales because of at-home waste, and an increase in the amount of wholesale fruit that can be presented to the customer, they still win.

Have you not noticed that your supermarket potatoes now last at most 2 weeks before they go soft and sprout? I have no idea how they do that. Ones from the garden can be stored for 3 months or more.

Re: Supermarkets and the environment - bags for life

Now do supermarkets really require to package everything in plastic?
Tescos: most of the vegetables in plastic.
In Boston last week at Whole Food Market, all the vegetables displayed unpackaged, not some, all unpackaged. It was a very much more impressive display and the vegetables looked fresh and tasty.
Let's not defend the supermarkets too strongly.

Incidentally, in Woburn MA residents are part of a scheme that encourages them to grow their own vegetables... this is evidence that the Totnes phenomenon is not an isolated instance.

Oh, and Whole Food Market provided paper bags to cart stuff away, not plastic.