Are you ready for Tracey’s Armchair Activist challenge?

Filed in Blog by on September 3, 2008 43 Comments
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Tracey smith - the book of rubbish ideas
So far we have come through our zero waste week unscathed and our landfill bin remains empty! Now we’re looking forward to our third zero waste challenge day.

I want to take a moment to say thank you to all of you who are stopping by on the site, reading, leaving comments and taking part in your own challenges this week. You are all amazing and it is the thought of you all out there, in your small corner of the world, walking the walk with us that inspires us.

This morning I woke up to thirteen new entrants for our pledge and win week, so I have the utmost faith that you will all be excited about taking part in something else:

Over on the Book of Rubbish Ideas site, Tracey has come up with a brilliant plan which we should all consider joining in with.

She is calling all Armchair Activists to unite in addressing the food packaging issue.

Armchair activism is my kinda thing. I’m not really the sort of gal to don nothing but a billboard outside the houses of Parliament. But writing emails and maybe even having the courage to leave my packaging in the shop is definitely something I’ll raise my hand to.

Tracey’s amazing idea is to get supermarkets provide consumers with receptacles to place their cardboard and plastic. So simple, yet so effective.

From our own poll, it shows that 56% of people find plastic packaging to be one of the top three things going into their bin each week, so this is clearly an issue that needs addressing.

Tracey has done all the hard work for you with a sample email, which you can find, along with a sneak peek of her book, so there’s no excuse not to take part. Plus you get to have a great read at the same time. This should whet your appetite for ordering your own copy; which is due out towards the end of this month!

As the rain pours down on our English summer, why not stay in the dry and warm and take a moment today to send an email or pen a letter to your local store? Let Tracey know on her site when you’ve done it and be sure to give her any feedback on the responses you get.

Remember, as a consumer, you’re in a powerful position. You might think ‘it’s the manufacturer’s fault’ or you ‘have no choice’; but as the consumer you have the choice every time you shop to vote with your money.

Just imagine if for one week, everyone across the UK rejected all items that came in non-recyclable packaging. Could you imagine the impact of that?

Let’s get on board with Tracey’s mission and see what, collectively, we can achieve!


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (43)

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  1. Tracey Smith says:

    Morning Missus!

    Thank you so much for your support of this – I truly believe we have the ability to effect enormous change in this country, but we have to put our backs into it, work together and make a lot of noise about the results we get.

    I have a couple of national newspapers looking at this story and my fingers are crossed they pick it up and shake it about!

    If ‘YOU’ write a letter to your local supermarket, please let me know what happens next…

    In antici…..paion,

  2. Mr Green says:

    Right on board here Tracey!
    We (read I) have often thought about stripping packaging at the checkout, in sheer frustration at having to take this stuff home. Remembering the womens institute who had a good packaging campaign that promted members to return packing to the supermarkets.

    It’s radical, but that’s how to send a clear message back ‘upstairs’ that we’ve had enough.

  3. Hi Mr Green,

    Tracey is absolutely right. Consumers have the power to change the intransigent attitudes we see. Look at Chris’s blog, the opposition is determined.

    Hopefully, container use for food commodities will arrive soon. A campaign of check-out package emptying, I might try that for desiccated coconut which I need (dried sultanas and salt later), would raise the profile. I would advise small efforts at the beginning.

  4. I’m an armchair activist too! While writing and working away here at the puter I often send off an email or three in support of something or other. I’ll get on it as soon as I decide who to email first!

  5. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Tracey, well true to my word I contacted 6 supermarkets today. I’ve had responses from two of them which I have posted on your site 🙂

    Have you ever actually left packaging at a check out John? We haven’t yet; I haven’t had the courage, but I’m building up for it!

    Great to have you onboard with Tracey’s mission, Sarah – the more the merrier!

  6. Hi Mrs Green,

    I intend to try tomorrow. My tactics will be to put the 4 coconut bags on the check-out surface, then put down a divider to treat it as a separate purchase. The loose apples, bananas, lemons, lime, peppers, potatoes will be put on top of a newspaper, as the second purchase.

    Moving to the base of the check-out, I will open the container in the shopping bag and take scissors out and await the 4 bags. As the bags come down the shoot, I will take each in turn, cutting the tops off and emptying into the already opened container. On completion, I will close the container. The plastic waste will be left to the side. Payment follows. Await developments.

    If all goes well, proceed to the second purchase and fill the bag as normal.

    That is the plan. Act normal, explain if asked and ask about the waste.

    If anyone else tries this, especially the fair sex, I would advice you to be accompanied or to have at least 2 like-minds in the same queue to aid the other.

    Tactics can develop with experience for best results.

  7. Mrs Green says:

    😀 brilliant and so well thought out! I wish you the best of luck and do let us know what response you get.
    It would be interesting to ‘set up’ a queue in a supermarket of like minded people; that would produce an celebratory result no doubt.
    Good for you and good luck!

  8. Tracey Smith says:

    Hi all – oh, I’m getting very excited about it all and thanks to everyone for their support here.

    Synchronised shopping should perhaps be a plan for later in the campaign.

    Initially, we should remain optimistic that by asking for receptacles, we will be given them – that would be a wonderful conclusion…Hmmm, I wonder…

    Keep all the info coming through – I will keep everyone informed of the progress via the blog and hopefully through the willingness of my good chums reporting the news on their blogs – xxx.

    Many thanks,

  9. Hi Mrs Green,

    Following Tracey’s comments, I chose the friendly approach at Sainsbury’s, Braehead. Loose fruit/veg was no problem but desiccated coconut, as I expected, had the usual plastic commodity bag. Customer Services provided the answer by taking the emptied bag back, which was fine.

    Sainsbury’s recently came top of an NCC assessment of Buy-one-get-one-free(bogof)healthy eating options, ie low fat, sugar, salt. As the helpful staff member confirmed the main priority for them is the condition of the product. That would have to be preserved in a new system.

    You earlier mentioned LDPE bags. There were no examples here yet. That type of bag may be one answer. Sainsbury’s may be the best superstore to try as they have been willing to experiment with alternatives.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Synchronised shopping, Tracey; I like that idea 🙂

    John, I have to say I was almost disappointed with your write up – it went so smoothly and easily; I was looking forward to a little jostling with security or the manager being called to escort you from the store 😀

    In all seriousness, you did a great thing today. We personally favour the CoOp at the moment because they state as clearly as nutritional information what the packaging is, along with codes on all their own label goods.

  11. Hi Mrs Green,

    Tracey’s idea would be a good publicity stunt, later in the campaign. If media were invited it would make a splash somewhere. Would the superstores change? They are entrenched in their position. Practical alternatives would be required and perhaps we should think about examples.

    Tracey had stated that an optimistic attitude should be the opening stance. I therefore took a positive position and discussed the campaign issue with a Customer Services Rep. She gave her opinion and I mentioned containers as a possible alternative to plastic packaging. If I had done the deed at check-out no one would have bothered. It was better to exchange views. There were 2 bosses about and I am sure they got the message from her.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    John, You’re right; it would make a wonderful news story. Change will come, but who knows what will spark that off. A culmination of lots of ideas, no doubt.
    It’s great that you shared your ideas with customer service.

  13. OMG – Have I got a lot of catching up to do peeps. What a fantastic plan that’s been hatching. Have previously been chatting to John about a meet-up in London with a whole bunch of us…now that could include anyone from the blog who’s interested. We could make it very interesting with fun events taking place throughout the day. All armchair activists who have read Tracey’s book could be invited to do their shopping in London in one place at the same time. Rather than surprise a store, the store could be invited to provide a suitable receptacle for the occasion and ensure that a waste stream service was available for appropriate recycling.

  14. Mrs Green says:

    OMG London **runs away and hides** I was thinking it would be a synchronised event in our own spaces across the lands. Remember I am an activist from the comfort of my own home; a true armchair activist, not scary tube stations and busy streets – I think I would melt in my own adrenaline and fear 🙁

  15. LOL Mrs G, I’m too much of an armchair layabout that any form of activism scares me, even if it’s from my own armchair, which is why I’d have trouble doing my own thing in my own supermarket. Happy to research, email, enquire by phone and do my bit but stand out in a supermarket on my own would be scary. Put me in another town with others though, with assurances from the manager that we wouldn’t be marched off the premises and that would be another matter altogether. If London’s too scary, we could try somewhere more pleasant for a lovely day out… 😀

  16. Hi Mrs A & Mrs G,

    However it is organised we could do a ContainerFest where a group uses containers to empty packs eg biscuits, home food commodities etc. It would make a great spectacle.

  17. Anna-Lisa says:

    I have friends who have left packaging in supermarkets before, however I never have – I really must, as mentioned in a reply to another post I will see if I can start using re-usable containers in the health shop but taking on a supermarket is another matter.

    However I will follow Johns lead and so this, will start with something small.

    I am more than an armchair activist in other areas, for example I am lobbying supermarkets as part of my job in terms of aninal welfare however that mainly involves writing letters to their purchase managers. However I will be protesting outside Sainsburys and doing a publicity stunt in October with regards to how they use a Scottish Salmon supplier that shoots seals in order to prevent the seal eating the salmon and the supermarket loosing money.

    I will email them about packaging too and I am up for getting involved in a publicity stunt and I’m not to far from London if anyone wanted to do a joint effort there. Otherwise I need to build up the courage to do something on my own locally.

  18. Mrs Green says:

    Ah, interesting; I see your point, Mrs A. I’m tackling the social phobia monster at the moment which keeps me pretty safe in my own home, but you never know when I might cure myself of that one.

    Anna-Lisa; this brings up so many interesting points doesn’t it? Many of us don’t have the courage to leave our packaging and I wonder (puts psychologists hat on) what that says about us? Is it an authority thing, something to do with being ‘different’? Our need for approval and to fit in? It’s throwing up a lot of interesting stuff for me.

    A container fest would be a neat idea John, and I’ve been thinking about the packaging idea too. For those of us ‘baby activists’ who don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, initially we could take the stuff home, take the packaging home and then return it on our next visit.

    If we have a supermarket delivery, we usually take everything in its individual carrier bags and just store them up for the next delivery and then we return them. Ok, it might not get the point across in the same way, but it’s a start…….

  19. Hi Mrs Green,

    It is wise to proceed cautiously. As a group we can empty 1 packect at checkout eg salt,rice,coconut,biscuits etc avoiding liquids (messy), or even all go, as a group, to customer services as I did, singly. From small beginnings, large efforts can grow.

    Emails too can be more pointed. A list of rquirements could be sent asking for the following to be unpackaged for container uplift:

    Any agreed list can be sent from all interested parties.
    Other ideas can be considered as well. They know about us. When I went alone I was treated with kid gloves.

  20. Mrs Green says:

    Well it sounds like there are plenty of ideas floating about. Let’s get Tracey back from her book signing today and see where she suggests we go from here 🙂

  21. Hi Mrs Green,

    With so much interest in your Zero Waste Week, there may be some like-minds who want to encourage change in the Zero responsibility taken by superstores.

    I would like to measure the interest in a good humoured campaign to highlight the current situation. As stated earlier all it will entail is the use of 1 container to empty 1 commodity bag/biscuit wrapper at a customer services counter in selected stores.

    A list of candidates with nearest sizeable town/city would allow a selection, 5 is a good number, to be made. I am willing to coordinate the effort, even if it is only 2 people, me included.

    Does anybody agree that this symbolic gesture is worth a go?

  22. Mrs Green says:

    I’m happy to fit in with a majority on this, John. Your idea certainly sounds workable

  23. Hi Mrs Green,

    The campaign has had a slow start but that is to be expected. Mrs A is planning a meeting in October. Whatever the location, we can certainly do something, even if it is 3 people watching me containerise a commodity. That would be a symbolic gesture with pictures for the blog to show others how its done.

    It would be a scream to have it on YouTube. Can that be done easily. You could do your usual commentary and I am sure it would take-off big style.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    John, it’s easy to get things on You Tube; that is where all the videos are streamed from on this site. You upload to them first and then link directly to YouTube. We’ll make a star of you yet 😀

  25. Hi Mrs Green,

    If you feel I am hogging the limelight, just walk in front of the camera continuing your commentary. I promise not to push my way in front, though I cannot speak for the others. Some people start to put on airs when live, not you.

    I do think video presentation would add to the message. Can you think of a title? Zero Waste in Action?

  26. maisie says:

    I have today sent an email to Tesco plc rather than my local store. googled to get the email addy.

    I also checked out Sainsburys and they have a Corporate Responsibilty Document up and on their Corporate website

    Will wait to see what sort of response I get from Tesco.

  27. Mrs Green says:

    I posted mine up on Tracey’s site, it will be interesting to hear if we get the same response!

  28. Tracey Smith says:

    Hi all – this topic is REALLY hotting up and I’ve had some great responses so far.

    Thanks to everyone who’s excited about kicking this around – the media have been starting to sniff around the story too – we might really get somewhere!

    Rubbishly yours,
    TS xx

  29. HI Mrs Green,

    As Tracey said, there has been a little interest with a reporter leaving details on Gai’s blog. It seemed to be a local man since the Bristol Zero Waste was his immediate focus.

    Emails sent to superstores will raise some interest but a campaign would be more newsworthy, especially if a Youtube video raised further activity. Small beginnings can grow into sizeable efforts with a good humoured approach. We would need to guard against bad news though, so careful planning would be necessary.

  30. Hi Mrs Green,

    Reusable items are part of the Zero Waste challenge. With this in mind I plan to buy jars of coffee and remove the lid/insert combination. The jar will still be sealed with the home lid ready to use.
    One way to discard the lid is to take to a customer service desk and say that you are reusing an old lid and do not need the one in hand. Who knows, this could be the future for coffee, and other sealed lidded items.

  31. Mrs Green says:

    that sounds an interesting project John – let us know how you get on with this!

  32. Hi Mrs Green,

    The idea behind this campaign is to encourage the superstores to take back all plastic waste for recycling/reuse. Obviously some food containers will need thorough washing for health reasons.

    Think of the change if all coffee lids were reused at home. I am also planning to reuse sauce bottle caps. Milk bottle caps are more risky since often the seal below is imperfect.

  33. Mrs Green says:

    It’s a good idea John and it reminds me of a conversation I had with my Mum a few weeks ago where she said as a child she would go to the shop and buy a pound of biscuits. These would be taken from a large jar, put in a paper bag or greaseproof paper and she would take them home to put in a biscuit barrel.

    Tbh, taking a coffee lid of and giving it back to the store seems a little crazy, but when you think back to how things were a few decades ago, it all makes sense again. I was reading about the war era where EVERYTHING was seen as a reusable resource. It hasn’t taken us long to become so wasteful in the grand scheme of things.

  34. Poppy says:

    Talking of biscuits, I emailed McVities earlier to firstly thank them for putting Jaffa Cakes in a box that I can recycle and then asking them about the plastic wrap around the biscuits wgich I can’t and questioning whether or not they are looking into an alternative recyclable packaging.

    I’ll let you know if they reply.

  35. Hi Mrs Green,

    Removing lids is a big deal with plenty of glass jars using them. I plan to remove all lids, where the jar has a seal, and coffee seems a good one to start.

    Superstores are the best places to leave these as they are central source. We can encourage them to join-in by asking them to return the lids to suppliers.

  36. Poppy says:

    Reply from McV’s today –

    RE: Recycle Enquiry

    Thank you for your email and your enquiry concerning the above issue.

    Unfortunately, you will be disappointed to learn that the packaging is made from a material called polypropylene, and not currently recyclable.

    Many years of research has gone into ensuring that the best packaging is used to maintain product freshness throughout its life and polypropylene is considered to be the best material for this purpose.

    Research has shown that the packets we discard of responsibly in the normal household waste can play an important part in land-fill stabilisation, as normal household waste can break down quite quickly.

    However, we suggest that best way to dispose of this type of packaging is to burn the material, as this will create energy.

    Thank you once again for contacting us.

    Kind regards
    Carol Gleeson

    Double, double, double aaaarrrgggghhh!!!

  37. Hi Poppy,

    Can you smell it too? Icineration is what they want. They do not care about our environment so we should shun their produce.

    I have been aware of this attitude for ages. Home baking is a good antidote and the more people take it up the less money McV gets.

  38. Poppy says:

    I’ve written back to tell that the suggestions they offer are not acceptable and that I hope, given the ever growing number of people who agree with me, that they will reconsider their options.

  39. Mrs Green says:

    Good one Poppy – there are many people that can’t get enough of those jaffa cakes! I’ll be interested in their response to you pushing them further.

    it’s so frustrating as I’m not sure I would be up for making myu own jaffa cakes. I had a go at jammy dodgers once and I vowed never again LOL!

  40. Hi Mrs Green,

    You want Jaffa cakes. Just do the Plastic Packaging to Container routine. If you feel a bit nervous think of the end result.

  41. merle prewett says:

    Hi regarding deoderant is it better to use a roll on – not recyclable or a spray (which is) but uses gas or should I just smell?

  42. Mr Green says:

    Hi Merle
    This is a good question. When you say

    or should I just smell?

    I guess you mean ‘should I just smell bad’ This is a Huge subject and not one that should be relagtated to just a comment. We are so conditioned to accept that out natural smell is unclean, dirty, unwashed and offensive and accepting that judgement, we fall into the commercial trap of covering up something natural and extremely important.

    What does all that mean? Put simply, out natural smell is an essential indicator of our feelings, moods and emotions. Plus a product of what we eat and absorb into our bodies from food and environmetal contamination. If we put bad stuff in, or we feel angry, depressed or resentful, this will reflect in the perspiration our body produces.

    This is not a wacky opinion, but a known factor in scientific research of hormonal action and and sexual attaction.

    In our so-called modern lifestyle, we have traded the mysterious magic of natural scent for synthetic chemical scent that masks the ‘real us’ We consider this a civilised alternative that spawns a whole cosmetic industry of perfumery and cosmetics.

    In our experience, a good natural organic diet coupled with an honest lifestyle and good personal hygene removes the need for artificial fragrances and anti-perspirants. Occasionally we enhance shampoos or soaps products with natural essential oil to add a little ‘accent’ but nothing heavy or over powering.

    The transition is not easy and you may not agreee with this natural approach. My advice is do the things that you can do and leave the more challenging aspects until a time when you are ready to expand your comfort zone.

    Thanks for your comment.

  43. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Merle,

    Welcome to the site and thank you for your important question! I fully agree with Mr Green’s opinion, but it can take a while to be ready for that approach.

    When you ask which is best, it depends on what criteria you are looking to fulfill.
    Regarding packaging and reducing burden on the landfill, we would suggest any product that can be easily recycled; in your case it would be the aerosol cans. These are aluminium and can be fully recycled, whereas the roll ons cannot.

    Other options are out there though, such as LUSH, who sell solid and powder deodorants in recyclable packaging.
    Neals Yard sell deodorants in blue plastic or glass bottles which can be returned to the store for a 10p discount and recycling.
    You can read more about these companies in our article.

    In addition there are natural crystals. Companies like Pitrok sell them in a cardboard box.

    So there are many options and different products suit different people.
    For me, I just wash and rarely need to use anything because I watch what goes into my body. But if I do feel the need for deodorant, I use a drop of pure lavender essential oil under my arms. Other zero waste enthusiasts use a dusting of bicarbonate of soda which both neutralises odour and absorbs wetness.

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