Stepping into Thornton’s Budgens supermarket in Belsize Park in London is like stepping back in time – at least where much of its packaging is concerned.
Andrew Thornton, who owns the local branch, has stripped plastic from 1,800 individual products throughout the store, replacing some of it with old-fashioned paper and glass alongside some new, more innovative materials.
Instead of being wrapped in plastic, fresh meat is now sold in sugar-cane trays with cornstarch lids, flavoured milks comes in glass bottles, and fresh fish and cheeses from the counter are wrapped in wax paper.
Fresh bread used to be sold in see-through plastic sleeves, but Thornton has done away with those and loaves are also wrapped in paper. Fruit and vegetables are either sold loose or in beechwood netting.
“You know the sort of netting you get oranges and tangerines in? Well, it looks exactly like that and if you put that into your compost bin or indeed if you threw it in your back garden with a bunch of leaves, it would disintegrate,” said Thornton. “If you wanted to come in and feed a family without using plastic, you could pretty much do that.”
But his is the first chain supermarket branch to make changes and he hopes to inspire larger stores to take action. Thornton took action after watching the 2016 film A Plastic Ocean with his staff. He thinks businesses have a responsibility to tackle plastic waste but that most don’t care enough to move swiftly.
“Our aim in all of this is to show the big supermarkets that actually it’s not that difficult to do. If one shop, with limited resources, can get 1,800 plastic free items together in 10 weeks, then surely the likes of Sainsbury’s or Tesco or Asda could,” he said.
“If we went completely plastic-free, just one supermarket, it’s not going to make much difference to the world. But if we can inspire the big guys to do it then that’s where a real difference could be made.”