In this week’s column Cathy Olphin discusses the findings from an environmental audit of Lancaster’s markets. This project was completed as part of an internship with the Centre For Global Eco Innovation and LESS.

plastic audit eventWe’ve all seen Blue Planet and know that plastic is a huge problem, but when every store’s goods are wrapped in plastic, what can we possibly do about this?

Local markets are an interesting case as they offer an alternative to your typical supermarket, and their practices are much easier to change than big stores such as Sainsbury’s and ASDA. I investigated the plastic use in Lancaster’s Markets to see what could be done.

Having interviewed traders at the weekly Charter Market and the seasonal Midsummer Market, I found some very interesting trends. One cause for celebration is that traders and customers alike are already making efforts to reduce their plastic consumption. Customers are bringing their own bags and tupperware and complaining when they see unnecessary plastic use. Traders are considering compostable alternatives to plastic and using nudge tactics to try to discourage customers from using excess plastic. Most food traders are now offering vegan/vegetarian alternatives as customers consider the environmental impact of their diet. This is all brilliant news, but there’s still lots of work to be done!

The same reasons for plastic use kept popping up: plastic alternatives are too expensive, not always practical for Lancaster’s rainy weather and there’s only a limited range available. Luckily, increased concern about plastic is changing this – more plastic alternatives are becoming available at a lower price. Some alternatives are now even cheaper than their plastic counterparts. With any luck, as more people become aware of plastic pollution, these alternatives will become even more accessible.

However, is switching to alternatives the best option? Paper alternatives, for example, have a higher carbon footprint than plastic. Making compostable ‘vegware’ can be very energy-intensive, and some take years to degrade. Discussing with local experts and City Councillors, the clear winner for sustainability is reusing containers.

There are limitless possibilities for markets moving forwards. We could implement a zero-waste target, introduce reuse/recycling schemes or consumer awareness campaigns. You can be part of this – bring your own tupperware to shops and see what they say! Make sure you have a reusable bag with you wherever you go. Complain to shops using unnecessary plastic and maybe they’ll change their ways. Maybe have a knife and fork in your bag to avoid having plastic cutlery for a meal on the go?

Next time you’re in town, be sure to consider your local markets. Shopping here is always more sustainable than supermarkets, and they have some amazing food and crafts which are perfect for Christmas time!

Read the Audit Report online.

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