Who is responsible in matters of environmentally friendly consumption? – A guest article by “Plastic Diary“-blogger Andreas Arnold:

The current discussions transfer the responsibility from one party to another. Despite knowing what the morally correct choice is. This results in a standstill. The solution, however, is very simple: No one can avoid their responsibility for the environment. It is a community effort to preserve a world for our descendants that is still worth living in.

Consumers may no more evade responsibility by claiming that stores only sell bell peppers wrapped in plastic than retailers saying that shoppers only want to shop easily and fast, making this packaging necessary. Upon closer inspection, both arguments are bogus.

Continuing with this example, it is not the case that stores only sell the tricolor (red, yellow, and green) bell pepper set packaged in polypropylene. You can purchase bell peppers separately in nearly every grocery store. Yellow bell peppers, red bell peppers, even orange bell peppers. However, they are more expensive. Hardly a European country spends less money on food than Germany. Germans barely spend ten percent of their incomes on it. Only the British spend less, but they wrap their food in newspaper. The French spend thirty percent more. The saying “eat like God in France” exists for good reason. God would never dine in Germany, He would only buy His car here. So the reason is not only convenience. Neither is it the case that we lack alternatives. We are simply stingy when it comes to food and therefore prefer to buy the cheaper set than individual bell peppers.

Incidentally, green bell peppers are rarely sold individually. And there is a reason for this. Nobody wants green bell peppers. They taste bitter and are not as sweet as their brightly colored siblings. Green bell peppers are the shelf warmers of the chili peppers. That is why the tricolor set exists. Two delicious bell peppers and a bitter one, but at a lower price. And this ensures that green bell peppers are also scanned at checkout. This reveals the vendors’ true motivation behind offering them as a bundle. It is not that customers want this. Retailers want to trick customers into also buying shelf warmers. By tweaking the price. And it works.

What is the solution? It is simple. Customers must calculate whether it is cheaper to buy more expensive bell peppers separately or a set of three that is more expensive, although one of them – the green one – will rot in the refrigerator. Retailers must calculate whether it is cheaper to sell all bell peppers without packaging costs at a suitable price based on demand and spend some money on lobbying for green bell peppers – after all, they are not half bad in a goulash – or purchase packaging machinery, maintain it, and operate it. All so they can sell the shelf warmers.

And, lastly, politics has a responsibility to not leave producers and consumers to their own devices. Particularly when the costs for the nation, i.e. all people that the government takes action for, begin to become unmanageable. That is the situation here. Our children and their children ultimately pay the price, one that is incalculable, for all disposable packaging that we produce unnecessarily – the epitome of which is using it for fruits and vegetables. It is especially puzzling why retailers often shrink-wrap organic produce of all things. Retailers claim that they want to avoid cross-contamination from nonorganic food. The more likely explanation is that retailers want to prevent chintzy customers from pretending they are purchasing regular bell peppers when, in reality, they are buying organic bell peppers. Stickers on produce do not solve the problem because they can easily be switched. Bad, bad customers! So, dear nation, how about a decree that fruit and vegetables may only be sold in bulk and organic food must be marked using ultraviolet light? This would not only reduce packaging waste – after all, sixty percent of our garbage consists of packaging – it would also provide the opportunity to label all green bell peppers with the ultraviolet marking „I’m actually red.“ Add the correct price and shelf warmers will also get sold. Of course, you could just postpone the harvest until they are ripe and no longer green, but in the end concealment is everything.