From today's Evening Herald
By Susan Daly
Wednesday September 02 2009
Litter can kill. I'm not talking about short-sighted badgers choking to death on discarded sweet wrappers (although, apparently, that can happen -- and it makes this Wind In The Willows' fan very sad indeed).
I refer to my farcical cycling accident last week, when a strip of plastic from a tray of tomatoes unwound itself as I wobbled home with a basketful of groceries.
Oblivious to everything but the bus bearing down on the cycle lane behind me, I didn't notice as the packaging streamed out behind the bike and got tangled in the spokes of my back wheel.
The tomatoes went flying and I very nearly went the way of ketchup myself.
That's why I'm not one bit surprised that supermarkets were on the litter blacklist this week.
Irish Businesses Against Litter said that the car parks, entrances and surrounding pavements of a quarter of Irish supermarkets were "seriously littered".
It's not like they're chip shops where people hang out late at night, too drunk to find a bin for their burger box.
But they produce way too much packaging -- as my near-puree experience proves.
So much packaging, in fact, that it's easy to lose some of it just lifting the shopping into the boot of the car.
Sometimes it's just hard to keep track of all the mini bags and clingfilm and cardboard slip covers and 'three-for-one' plastic sashes that come with a load of groceries.
There's always that rogue bit of wrapping that makes friends with a gust of wind as you perform the delicate transfer of bags from trolley to car.
Off you go, chasing it around the parking area with all the grace of Charlie Chaplin on horse tranquillisers.
Do we really need our cucumbers and broccoli to be shrink-wrapped?
Will we die of food poisoning if avocados are not swaddled in clingfilm on a polythene tray?
Why are my favourite biscuits individually wrapped, as well as packaged in an outer plastic pocket?
It's an insult to tough-skinned bananas to have them neatly bunched into sterile bags.
Maybe it's an EU health and safety directive. Or -- maybe -- it's because supermarkets think we equate heavily packaged goods with quality.
Is it possible that the big chains are just responding to our squeamishness about finding a bit of dirt still clinging to our spuds?
They might well think that we will pay more for our food if it is airbrushed and Botoxed and packaged to the point of looking artificial.
I think we might be getting over that. Look at farmers' markets, where browsers pay top euro for the quaint pleasure of being able to sniff their peaches and squeeze their squashes.
Whatever the reason, the way to get rid of excess packaging is to make it worth our while to care.
Don't forget that our favourite national boasts -- now that we've stopped monopolising the Eurovision -- is the success of the smoking ban and the plastic bag levy.
Within three months of the introduction of the levy, Ireland had cut its use of plastic bags by a whopping 90pc. I imagine we'd all be packing our wicker baskets straight from the loose carrot box if we thought we'd pay less at the checkout for unwrapped items.
There are certain things that must be packaged of course -- you can hardly be expected to bring your own Tupperware boxes to carry home the kids' baked beans or tip a dozen eggs into your handbag. But there is no excuse for shrink-wrapping a cabbage.
Last April, Tesco started a trial in two of its English stores which allows shoppers to strip away excess packaging from their groceries before they leave the store so they don't have to get rid of it at home. They are trying to identify what packaging customers actually want. I wonder if they mind if I tried it at my branch ...