Why sending plastic back to a supermarket can do more harm than good

Angry about plastic waste? Good for you.

Want to campaign to reduce excess plastic packaging in supermarkets? Well done.

Sending plastic packaging back to supermarkets? Meh. Sending plastic waste back to a supermarket could be doing more harm than good.

Excess packaging in supermarkets

It is now common knowledge that supermarkets use a lot of plastic. Their business models revolve around being able to keep food fresh and on the shelves for as long as possible. Much of the plastic packaging can not be recycled either.

This waste is a large contributing factor to the tidal wave of plastic waste that is currently swamping our planet and destroying our oceans. For every steak, apple, or bottle of shampoo that we buy, a piece of plastic gets added to the world, and that plastic isn’t going away.

Even when we do recycle, we can not be certain what happens to the plastic once our councils have taken it away in the correct bag.

This needs to stop and consumers have the power to stop it.

Is sending plastic waste back to a supermarket a good idea?


There are a number of things that make this a bad idea.

  1. The first and most important one is that you have purchased the products in the first place. This means that more products and more plastic will be produced to replace what you have purchased. It also sends a clear signal to the supermarkets that these are products that are in demand, therefore they will stock more of them.
  1. By sending the packaging back to the supermarket, you are generally having to wrap it in more plastic, therefore creating more plastic waste. You also have the environmental considerations of the fuel and energy that it takes to ship your protest to the supermarket HQ.

  2. Can you guarantee that the supermarket will then dispose of it responsibly? No. I am sure they do have effective recycling in their HQ, but once you have sent it off, you lose complete control of the disposal of this excess plastic.

  3. There are hygiene issues to consider. Are you sending off plastic that was packaging meat or dairy? Even any fruit or veg residue in the packaging can rot and become unhygienic after a few days in the postal system. Someone has to open the post, and it won’t be the boss. Risking someone else’s health is never ok.

What should you do instead?

Shop local and independent

There are so many local and independent retailers that are trying to do the right thing. These people need your support to make their businesses work. If you use businesses that are actively trying to reduce plastic waste, you will enable them to expand and this in turn will enable more consumers to reduce their waste.

Write an email

Reading this blog? You have access to the internet then. Instead of sending the rubbish that you have willingly purchased back to the people that you have purchased it from, send them an email explaining why you are not shopping with them.

Say what you would like to see in their supermarkets.

Encourage friends and families to also lobby the supermarkets. If enough people start voicing their opinions and the supermarkets know that they will lose their customers if they don’t change, they will change.

Finally….don’t take it out on the checkout staff

Don’t voice your anger at plastic waste to the checkout staff and don’t “make a fuss.” It is unlikely that they will have a huge amount of power to change the supply line of these large corporations. Making their working day harder or more unpleasant will just ruin their day, not save the planet.

Your individual choices on how you consume, communicate and shop can start to save the planet.