Why I Hardly Shop at Coles & Woolworths

Updated: Nov 23, 2018

For the last seven years, here’s what I mainly go to Coles and Woolworths for, if ever - cleaning products (bleach, fabric softer, dish washing liquid and the like) and personal care products (toothpaste, soap, tissues, tampons - you get it). I rarely walk out with any food.

Why? Simple. Because the foods that our major supermarkets stock are mainly what I call “non-food”. Yea, we can eat it and we won’t die, but our bodies do not recognise most of these foods as “real food” as they are so highly processed. Yes, Coles and Woolies do sell some real foods, like their fruit and vegetables and its deli selection, but in the last two years I have been increasingly put off from supporting these retailers altogether, from an environmental standpoint.

Coles and Woolworths seem adamant on packaging a vast selection of its fresh produce in plastic cartons and sealed plastic packets. Plastic tubes of apples, plastic wrapped bananas, sweet potatoes that come in both plastic cartons and a plastic packet, a handful of mushrooms in a plastic tray - plastic, plastic, plastic! When I think that these foods already come intact with its own packing, it’s mind-numbingly frustrating. And the thought of the tonnes of landfill all this packaging contributes to does my head in - I refuse to spend my dollars there. I’m voting with my wallet.

Globally, 90% of all plastic produced won’t end up in the recycling bin.

If you are trying to do the right thing for the environment by recycling and using less plastic, big corporations like Coles and Woolworths are undermining your efforts by wrapping its fresh fruit and veggies in throwaway, single-use plastic packaging. “Globally, 90% of all plastic produced won’t end up in the recycling bin,” according to a recent study that measured the harm plastic is causing our planet, published in the journal Science Advances in 2017.

It's predicted that by mid-century, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish.

“Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so most of it still exists in some form. Only 12% has been incinerated,” as published in National Geographic. “The prediction that by mid-century, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish, tonne for tonne, has become one of the most-quoted statistics and a rallying cry to do something about it.”

Both Coles and Woolworths have announced its sustainability commitments this year, with Coles first advising it would phase out plastic straws by the end of 2018, and on 20th June, both supermarkets pledged to phase out the single-use plastic bag. While Woolworths made good on its word, I noticed that Coles backflipped and continued to hand out its hardier and indestructible bags (even worse than the single use plastic bags) to customers at the checkout for free, months after the pledge date and despite outrage from the community.

To make matters worse, on 5th August 2018, a crew member of Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel, M/Y Steve Irwin, spotted a plastic bag floating out at sea about 500 meters off the Mackay Coast. “Indigenous Githabul man and M/Y Steve Irwin Quartermaster crew member, Jarmbi, jumped in to remove the bag, which was found to be a Coles Better Bag,” according to Sea Shepard’s news site.

“Even though these Coles better bags have only been around a short time, already we are seeing them in our local marine environment, with the potential to kill whales - as many whales globally have washed ashore starving due to their stomachs being choked with plastic bags," says Sea Shepherd Australia’s managing director, Jeff Hansen.

"What’s also a big concern is that the red and white colour Coles branding on the bag has faded to a pale yellow, meaning dye is leaking into our precious and fragile marine environment."

So, where do I shop and buy my food from?

Slowly, but surely, I have gravitated towards my local markets, Prahran Markets, to source my fresh produce, meats and pretty much most of my food. I take my own reusable bags and containers whenever I shop there. You can also spot me at my local Source Bulk Foods regularly (who are avid environmental sustainability crusaders, clearly visible in its store practices), for all my seeds, nuts, legumes and flours. I do shop at my local health store as well, Prahran Health Foods, but again, I’m disappointed by the amount of packaging its products also come in and I will need to, at some point soon, come up with alternative and more environmentally friendly ways to source those health and food items.

According to the study on plastic (referred to above), if present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills - that amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building!

There is great power in a collective voice.

If you would like to preserve our beautiful planet and be part of the #breakfreefromplastic movement, you should tell Coles and Wooloworths and any other retailer that you shop at to stop packaging its produce in plastic and come up with environmental friendly ways to sell its goods. There is great power in a collective voice and as consumers you have more power than you think, you can also vote with your wallets. Simply do not buy these products.

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