Saving the environment bottom line

winecarrier2.jpgFor the last few years, supermarkets in NZ have offered people cardboard carriers for packing bottles of wine, much like this one. Very convenient, reusuable, made from renewable sources, and able to be recycled. What’s not to like about them?

But now, one of the local chains has decided it’s not going to supply them anymore. Instead, customers have been invited to purchase a plastic wine carrier, which the supermarket loudly trumpets as being better for the environment, because the customer can bring it back, and use it again, and again, and again.

I’m rather suspicious about this, given that the cardboard wine carriers seem to be quite reasonable, environmentally. So it’s hard not to suspect that the supermarket chain is off-loading the costs of packaging onto its customers. In order to buy more than just a couple of bottles of wine from those supermarkets, customers must now either use the standard plastic bags which the supermarket supplies, or pay for a service that supermarkets used to provide free, the costs of which were absorbed in the supermarkets’ overheads.

It makes me wonder whether the push by supermarkets for customers to buy and use their own bags for ordinary groceries, let alone wine, is driven by environmental concerns at all. You can buy bags for about 99c, or you can use the supermarkets bags, for free. Supermarkets run on very tight margins, so my guess is that if some costs can be passed on to customers, in the guise of saving the environment, then that will have a nice positive effect on the bottom line.

I have no problem whatsoever with supermarkets cutting costs. I just wish they wouldn’t dress it up as being environmental good guys.

Supermarkets aren’t the only entities shifting costs onto other people, and then claiming the environmental credit. The government has made a great song and dance about its Govt3 strategy, where it is trying to achieve a carbon neutral public service. One of the strategies for doing this is to encourage public servants to walk, bike, or catch public transport to work. But as anyone who walks, bikes, or catches public transport knows, this often takes far more time than simply taking a car. Public servants who walk, bike or ride public transport to work will incur greater costs, through the extra time they have to spend getting to work, but the credit for that will be taken by government. Nice. Again, costs are pushed onto a somewhat captive group, employees, but the credit goes elsewhere.

I’m all for reducing environmental costs. But when I do it, I want the benefit, and the credit for making the effort, to accrue to me.

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One response to “Saving the environment bottom line

  1. So you can’t get the cardboard ones at all now? Regardless, the obvious solution is to buy by the case :)

    I’m living in a situation where we get most of our plastic bags from people who don’t recycle them, by taking them out of rubbish bins (or my workmates desks, same thing). Both our local supermarkets also recycle cardboard boxes but also give them to customers on request, by having a pile behind the checkout counter. Just like the olden days.