"I'm Not a Plastic Bag" hardly seems a slogan worth bothering with these days: reusable carriers now seem as ordinary a feature of a trip to the shops as a trolley with a wobbly wheel. The tipping point was arguably Plan A, not just any anti-plastic campaign, but a Marks & Spencer anti-plastic bag campaign: when the Grand Old Dame of the British high street starts charging 5p per unnecessary receptacle, people pay attention.
But a new study by the Local Government Association has cast doubt on those green credentials. The report, published last week, found that a typical shopping trip generated an average of 714g of packaging – and M&S was second from the bottom of the pile just ahead of Lidl, with 807g, and a lower percentage of it recyclable than any other retailer. Plastic bags seem rather beside the point.
Fortunately, The Independent on Sunday has its own Plan B: ever green, we resolved to try to reduce the environmental impact of our Saturday lunchtime shop, and see what would happen if we removed the cardboard sleeves and stay-fresh scrunchy wrappers at the till. All right, the detritus would still probably end up in a landfill somewhere, but at least our hands would be clean.
The results were predictably ugly, and weirdly illogical. I can see that slices of Edam probably need to be kept together, if there's really anyone who needs their cheese fix pre-sliced; but surely a bunch of bananas will maintain their integrity unaided? If squashes and asparagus are deemed tough enough to survive without a blast-proof casing, won't the skin on an avocado protect it from the elements? And I know the lamb with rosemary and crispy potato slices is sold "ready to roast", but is there really anyone out there with an oven and a mind to use it who doesn't also own a roasting tin?
Mel at the till doesn't have any answers to these obnoxious questions. But she agrees that "It is a lot of plastic", and, after a doubtful few moments watching me tip croissants from their redundant tray and into the morass of loose treats in our trusty Tesco Bag for Life, helpfully starts to deplasticise a similarly encumbered set of chocolate chunk cookies. The job done, poor Mel looks a bit nonplussed by the mound of rubbish obscuring her view of the customers, and after a brief struggle with a guilty conscience, I end up stuffing the plastic mountain into our bag as well.
The journey home is not without complications – to me, the ripe aroma of bruised fruit and buttery croissants is a heady reminder of childhood picnics past; to everyone else on the tube it is more immediately reminiscent of a dustbin. It also becomes clear that packing loose food requires a little more TLC than I, with my hyper-packaged habits, am normally wont to give. Still, by and large, the goodies make it home intact, and the associated pile of jetsam is so vast that it's hard not to want to do something about it. Say it with me: I am not an Individual Plastic Biscuit Tray!