This month saw our latest Mass Unwraps take place at supermarkets across Penzance. These non-disruptive awareness events are a great way to show the scary amount of single-use and unnecessary plastic packaging given out by the supermarkets, and use people-power to call for change.

59 billion pieces of plastic packaging are distributed by UK supermarkets every year – that’s 112,000 pieces of plastic packaging leave supermarket doors EVERY MINUTE. Latest stats show the total plastic packaging used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets rose from an estimated 886,000 tonnes in 2017 to 903,000 tonnes in 2018.

In 2019 SAS Mass Unwrap events collected up to nine pieces of unwanted plastic a minute. In one case at Tesco in Braunton, North Devon 1,660 items were handed back. It was estimated that less than 10% of the plastic packaging could be recycled. Here in Penzance we collected over a thousand items which customers said they didn’t want anymore. And that is one of the key elements of Mass Unwrap … it gives the customer a voice. A visual voice too!

Mass Unwraps open our eyes to the scale of the problem but also record customer feedback – which we can then feed into national campaigns and calls for action via Surfers Against Sewage. We regularly take part in the charity’s Citizen Science projects, which in the past have successfully contributed to calls for a Deposit Return Scheme in the UK and also held top polluting brands to account. 

This time we are contributing to calls for #LessPlasticPlease – collating the number of items we collected during events, but also contributing to a list of the UK’s top ‘Pointless Plastic Pet Hates’. Pointless being the key word here. Mass Unwrap is not about taking off all plastic, willy nilly. Some plastic is needed, and we always come back to the fact that plastic itself isn’t the problem – it’s the way we use plastic which is the problem. It’s also the way that we can’t escape using it, if we still choose to shop in supermarkets or with other national retailers.

Our top pet hate in Penzance was … Plastic Wrapped Fruit and Veg. So that’s things like coconuts, bananas and caulis wrapped in plastic, citrus nets and multipacks of fruit – especially the fact that we aren’t enabled to buy loose fruit & veg because it’s more expensive than plastic wrapped multi-packs! Also on the list … plastic wrapped magazines, flowers, multipacks of tins/cans and the lack of plastic free alternatives such as paper bags, glass bottles and refill.

The #LessPlasticPlease survey is now being rolled out online so anyone in the UK can take part in it, whether there was a Mass Unwrap organised near them or not. Look out for posts on our social media channels once the survey is live and please take part if we didn’t catch you at Mass Unwrap. Please share far and wide too, as we use our collective, community voice to call for change. Many of us want to shop with less plastic … and right now the supermarkets are way behind the curve.

Which brings us back to shopping local. If we want to cut pointless plastic in our lives one of the best things we can do is shop local. That has the awesome knock-on effect of supporting local families, local high streets and local economies. Every pound you spend in our local businesses really does count. You can do a plastic free weekly shop in Penzance easily now. Check out our Life Hacks page and Business Directory for info.

Final word: A huge thank you to local supermarket managers and staff who welcome us on Mass Unwrap days.  The first thing we do before holding an event is check in with managers and work with them on dates, times and also locations in store, so as not to disrupt staff. Local staff and managers aren’t responsible for decisions around what products are packaged in and are simply doing their jobs. So it’s really important to us that they aren’t affected or targeted. Thank you all!