Smoothies in plastic bottles, shrink-wrapped veggies and the oh-so frowned upon plastic straw – everywhere you look there is plastic. Many people first think about plastic in regard to how we use it to wrap and store food items, but nowadays plastic is basically everywhere. Julia Brunner asked company owners of my hometown Achern in the South-West of Germany on how they deal with plastic and even try to reduce their demand for it.
In Germany, the days of one-way plastic bags are mostly over. The shift from one-way to reusable alternatives gained pace a few years ago with new state laws as well as EU-guidelines. More and more shops and companies offer alternatives and encourage consumers to reduce their plastic consumption. “A few years ago, we already introduced the Achern Aktiv bag,” says Phillip Schäfer, chairman of Achern Aktiv, a coalition of industry and retail businesses of the city Achern. “Most parts of the bag are made of PET-bottles and can be used several times.” Schäfer is also the owner of Schuh Schäfer, a shoe shop on Achern’s main street. Even in his store, he sees growing demand from shoppers for plastic-free alternatives. “We now ask our customers whether they really want a bag. As an alternative we offer them carry handles for the shoe boxes.” They no longer use one-way plastic bags.
One of Achern’s biggest supermarkets is Scheck-In-Center. “We have offer our customers reusable vegetable nets since September 2018. They can use them as an alternative to plastic and paper bags in our vegetable and fruit section,” explains Maud Neumann-Merkel, spokesperson of Scheck-In-Center. The centre belongs to the EDEKA-Group, Germany’s biggest supermarket retail cooperation. “Nationwide, EDEKA could already cut down around 95 million one-way plastic bags till summer 2019,” says Neumann-Merkel. Customers who want to buy fresh meat and cheese can bring their own reusable boxes as well.
EDEKA wants to encourage people to use more reusable items when they are shopping. Therefore, they introduced the tree-planting card. “People get a sticker on their card for every time they use a reusable shopping net or box. For every ten stickers, EDEKA plants a tree of a native species where forest areas have been destroyed, for example, because of storms.” Neumann-Merkel says that they also try to un-pack their fruit and vegetable products that are normally wrapped in plastic. “We try to replace this plastic with package bands and sometimes even with laser engraving on the peel.
With summer being close, the demand for ice cream will rise again as it does every year. Many ice cream parlours use one-way plastic cups for scoops of ice cream as well as refreshing shakes. The locals’ favourite ice cream parlour Gelato next to the old cinema Tivoli changed their whole range of cups and cones. “We no longer use plastic cups. Instead, we choose paper and wafer products,” says Simone Springmann of Gelato. “Our cups for drinks as well as our spoons are made of plant fibre and leftovers of sugar production and are compostable.”
For customers to accept the change, Gelato banned all one-way plastic products from their ice cream parlours. “Now we only have half the waste than before,” adds Springmann. She says that the reason for their conversion from plastic to more sustainable products is climate change. “We also talked about it at home with our children. We want to convey specific values to them and that also fits the concept of our ice cream parlour.”