Peppers in plastic, passion fruit in a sweat - how much of this packaging do we need?
It was just a medium-sized shopping-bag's worth of groceries - yet like a conjurer's hat, it created a huge mound of packaging.
A simple exercise by The Independent at the weekend illustrated a profound truth: that whatever the promises of supermarkets to change their ways, packaging, and over-packaging, are still an absolutely essential part of the deal they offer us.
We put together a bag of 14 household items and although they came from seven stores rather than one - to show how universal the phenomenon is - they made up a typical shopping bag. There were basic vegetables, fruit, breakfast cereal and cakes, washing powder, and one item for household odd jobs. Plus a small Valentine's gift - getting in early, as it were. Total cost: £23.44.
The first thing to say about the Indy's bag is that a generation ago, almost all of the items in it would have been sold loose. Even those which at one time had to be wrapped in some way, would have been wrapped less - once rather than twice, say. But now they all came swathed in clingfilm, plastic, paper and cardboard, to the extent that when it was eventually all discarded, it made a substantially bigger pile than the bare groceries themselves.
The second point to be made is that some packaging, as we shall see, was so unnecessary as to verge on the farcical.
But don't just take our word for it. To get an outside opinion we went to the Women's Institute, that venerable village-hall organisation which in recent years has reinvented itself as a doughty consumer champion. The WI has a bee in its bonnet about unnecessary packaging, and last summer held a day of action to highlight the problem. Members from branches all over England and Wales saved their packaging for a week then took it back to the checkout, saying "here - you take it".
Prominent in that campaign was Isla Arendell, a member of the WI public affairs committee. Isla, a social worker from Chepstow who is married with two children, took her own pile of plastic, cardboard and clear wrapping back to the Chepstow branch of Tesco, and persuaded them to take it off her hands. So we asked her and Katie Austin from the WI head office to run the rule over our own pile of over-swaddled groceries.
They shared our view that some of the packaging being foisted on the shopper was simply ridiculous. At the top of the list was the shrink-wrapped swede. This item, 35p from Morrisons supermarket in Camden, north London, was unchallenged in its nonsensical supremacy.
Ms Arendell was particularly scathing about two sweetcorn cobs, bought from a Tesco branch in Fulham. "This looks absolutely dreadful," she said. "Look how they're sweating in the bag. They don't fit properly and they're rolling around. If they had been picked with their leaves on, they would have been far fresher, and effectively protected naturally."
General groceries were just as heavily overwrapped. Ms Arendell looked at a pack of 12 iced fairy cakes (£1.08 from Asda), which were encased in cake wrappers, then in a plastic tray, then shrouded in coloured wrapping. "This a is a great example of what we object to. The packaging here is for a marketing campaign that's appealing to children. The cakes are wrapped three times - cases, tray, clear wrapping - yet they're sturdy enough and appealing enough just to be in their cases."
Her colleague Ms Austin said: "We warmly welcome the Independent campaign, because as you can see clearly from these items, there is simply far, far too much packaging. It's not only making a big contribution to waste, it's often making you buy far more than you want to, and severely limiting your choice."
Frilled shark: Australian fishermen capture terrifying shark from the deep
Ten fascinating natural phenomena
Devon beavers can stay living in the wild, Natural England rules
Keep off the grass: Research confirms that highly manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 3 Amal Clooney gives excellent answer to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 4 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 5 Isis publicly behead man in Syrian town square for 'insulting Allah' as he screams for help
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...
£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...