Published: 06:00, 18 January 2020
Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Tesco may have pledged to cut waste but it is smaller stores are leading the way in the plastic free movement across Kent.
The Plastic Free campaign by Surfers Against Sewage is helping local stores to reduce their plastic waste and urging bigger companies to follow suit.
Plastic Free leaders across the county offer advice to stores, helping them to use as little disposable plastics as possible.
Campaigns in Tunbridge Wells have helped to open The Zero Waste Company store where customers can refill their own containers with dry food and Ashford has a glass bottle milk round initiative.
Amy Howie, 35, Norman Street, is the Plastic Free Dover leader and runs the Vegan and Eco Store.
The store only sells products that are animal free and low in waste, such as bamboo or coconut utensils and metal reusable straws.
Mrs Howie says recycling plastic is not as good as people think. Emissions are produced by the energy used and costs change with market value, making the process less about 'doing the right thing' and more about profit.
Fluctuating prices mean newly made plastic is now £57 cheaper per tonne than recycled plastic. This means that businesses have more financial incentive to use new plastics rather than recycled ones.
Eco-friendly food packaging also tends to be more expensive than the plastic alternatives.
For example, a burger box made from sugar cane can be almost twice the price of one made of polystyrene and paper straws can be more than three times the price of their plastic counterpart.
She added: “We need to turn into a circular economy where we reuse what we've got over and over again until it can no longer be used."
The Crown pub in Rochester recently became waste free and was awarded a plaque from Plastic Free Medway.
The pub cut out all disposable plastic cups and stirrers, switched to paper straws and started buying fruit loose in a nearby store.
Smaller shops can be more expensive for customers but advocates say it's worth it for products that are more ethical, environmentally friendly and which give suppliers a fair wage.
Elsewhere in the town Austin's has pursued a low waste policy since it opened. Dry foods are wrapped in bioplastic which degrades in weeks rather than years, handmade soap is packaged in paper or glass jars and liquids are only sold in glass bottles.
Fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic is often defended by retailers as it keeps the product fresher for longer, which some argue reduces food waste. Bell peppers last less than a week unwrapped but for up to 20 days when wrapped in plastic.
Austin's reduce their food waste by ordering small amounts of fresh produce daily from local farms and allowing their employees to take home any food which might otherwise be wasted. This also helps the store tailor their stock to customer needs.
According to figures, a mind-blowing 70% of post-production farm food is wasted within households, so by offering consumers the chance to buy only the food they need daily, rather than pre-packaged in plastic, could cut food waste dramatically.
Small independent stores can easily change their approach to plastic as that's up to the store owner, but larger companies like Costa have policies made by bosses and as yet, they have not made their food wrappings recyclable, like their cups.
Because of this, the Plastic Free campaigners target small shops first to put more pressure on big chains to keep up with the changing times. And supermarkets are starting to catch up.
Sainsbury's pledged to halve their own-brand disposable plastic by 2025, starting with replacing disposable bags for fruit and vegetables with a reuseable ones made from recycled bottles.
Morrison's said by 2025 all own-brand plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable. The supermarket now encourage customers to bring their own containers for meat and fish.
And Tesco is also doing its bit to combat the problem, a spokesman said: “If packaging can’t be recycled it will have no place in our business. We have committed to removing a billion pieces of plastic by the end of 2020 and, where we can’t remove packaging, we will reduce it to an absolute minimum.”
However, Dover's Plastic Free leader says: "Stock market companies are all about bringing money to their shareholders. They don't care. All they want to know is that they get their products at the price they want without damaging their brand image.
"It's great that everybody at the home level is making a difference. But we need to be putting more pressure on big companies and government to make a difference.
"That's where the biggest difference is made."
More by this authorSophie Bird