On plastic and social change

Just rip off all the packaging and leave it behind – that’ll teach them!

Or not.

In many cases, leaving plastic wrapping in the store is an exercise in futility that simply irritates staff who have no power to do anything to effect change.

However, the impulse to do *something* to change the system is to be applauded, and advice to simply shop somewhere with better policies doesn’t ultimately help. One or two people opting out and using a specialized low waste supplier is good but not as effective as those one or two people lobbying mainstream suppliers to make less-waste practices that will now affect everyone whether they care or not.

The advice to “just ask for them not to give you a bag next time” is nice, but sometimes the employee is so quick on the draw tossing your stuff into unnecessary plastic (while you’re getting out your wallet to expedite the transaction) that you miss the window of opportunity.

Instead, let’s advocate for employee behaviour to change: Please always ask the customer if he/she wants a bag. This adds a few seconds to the transaction but has tremendous potential to reduce waste.

When I used to work in retail, I would nearly always ask customers if they wanted a bag. Some of them looked at me like I was stupid (“why would you ask such a question – of course I want a bag!”), others appreciated not being burdened by an unsolicited bag, while yet others would say yes out of instinct, then stop, survey all the bags they were already carrying, and come to the realization, “no, actually, I can put it in the bag I already have!” It was so satisfying to see that revelation, but I knew I had to keep prompting people to come to it.

Stopping to notice is such an important factor in behaviour change.

Persistence is needed to remind oneself to keep stopping to notice the things one keeps for granted.
This kind of persistence, I naively believe, can eventually change systems to work such a check-and-balance into the process.
But...caveat...we need to do it kindly.


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