Wednesday 14 November, 2018

Going Green: Massy Stores CEO says no profit in plastic bag sales

Far from aiming to make a profit on the proposed 50-cent sale of plastic bags, Massy Stores CEO Derek Winford says he hopes they don’t sell any bags at all.

In an interview with LoopTT, Winford said the supermarket chain’s decision to charge 50 cents for plastic bags from July 4, 2018, is the ethical and responsible thing to do as the company cannot keep contributing to the country’s waste problem.

Winford said the company has always been environmentally conscious and began facilitating plastic recycling years ago by having Plastikeep collection centres at its branches.

Three years ago I was first approached to help with the recycling of plastics and enquiries led us to Plastikeep, where we agreed to support them and have their bins in our stores. Then we communicated to customers to return their plastics in these bins. The response by customers was tremendous.

“When Plastikeep got into financial problems, we said to them that we would continue to fund all the bins, so we kept the bins and took over the payment for it."

Winford said the company, which pays millions in taxes to the Green Fund, continued to pay for the bins at their own cost.

(In this photo dated October 6, 2016, Massy Stores CEO Derek Winford stands with members of Plastikeep in a commitment to uphold their plastic recycling initiative.)

He says therefore that the company has never sought to profit from its recycling initiatives.

“There’s so much information out there on what plastic is doing, especially to the marine environment because that’s where the plastic is ending up.

“A year ago we decided to make a statement on International Plastic Day which is in July, and the response was mixed, but we learned a lot from that. Customers were saying that it shouldn’t be for just one day, they wanted it to be permanent.

“So that led us to where we are now and it’s on International No Plastic Day that will be the last day we use plastic bags in the store (for free),” he said.

The company is also initiating a plastic bottle exchange programme in which Massy customers will be able to return plastic bottles in exchange for Massy points.

Claims of profiting from plastic bag sales: Ludicrous

Winford also dismissed claims on social media which alleged that the company would profit from deciding to sell plastic bags.

“There’s no money to be made there, especially if customers use the reusable bags, which we’ve been giving away. We gave away 10,000 already and we’re going to give away more.

“There have been a lot of calculations (on social media)…that math is completely wrong. I don’t think it deserves a response except to say it’s ludicrous.

“How many bags do I want to sell? Zero. I want to give away these reusable bags and encourage customers to continue using those bags. The aim is not to sell the bags at all,” he said.

He explained the company will still have plastic bags for sale for those customers who may have forgotten to bring a reusable bag, or similar scenarios - for example a tourist shopping at the store.

“If I sell seven percent of the 34 million bags at 50 cents, that I purchased for 35-40 cents, and then I paid for handling etc., where’s the money? There’s no profit there.”

Winford added that the profits from the sale of the bags will also go to environmental charities.

“If I make any money from the sale of those bags, they all go to charities,” he said.

The company presently donates to a list of charities including United Way, the Living Water Community, Rainbow Rescue, Cascade School for the Deaf and more.

He’s also encouraging other supermarkets and businesses to join them in this initiative.

“The more the merrier. If we have about 15 percent market share, this means there are many other supermarkets out there using plastic bags. So if we use 34 million, that’s about 175 million plastic bags being used a year, so if they all join, that would be great,” he said.

Massy Stores: 34 million bags per year

Winford said the company assessed how many plastic bags it contributes per year, and the number was staggering.

In doing research on how much plastic we contribute, we found out that Massy Stores produces 34 million plastic bags per year. We said that we have to do something about it. We can’t keep promoting Plastikeep on the one hand and contributing to the problem on the other,” he said.

Winford said the company has so far given away over 10,000 reusable bags and plans to give away more to customers who shop at their stores.

And he said the reusable bags, which are made of a more durable material, will provide for many more uses and cost just $10 in their stores.

“The whole issue of the 50 cents is because we’re following the English model, they legislated five pence per bag and they thought it would reduce plastic bag usage by 80 percent, when in fact it was reduced by over 90 percent, so it has made an impact. Because of that initiative, there are less bags in the ocean.

“And I hope that the same thing will happen here,” he said.

The company also sorts and recycles its cardboard and plastic waste which is sent to SWMCOL for recycling and export.

‘Biodegradable’ bags creating dangerous microplastics

Winford added that the plastic bags which are currently used are biodegradable. However the company’s policy has changed as it was discovered that these bags break down into tinier plastic fragments or microplastics which do not degrade and create even more damage to the environment.

“It was a policy that we developed in the past when we weren’t aware (of the dangers of microplastics). The manufacturer suggested the biodegradable plastic bags and we agreed to pay a little more for it and started using it. But as time went on and we learned more about the bags and the environmentalist came on board we realised that this needs to change as well. At the time, we thought it was better than the non-biodegradable plastic bags, but now we know that’s not true.”

“If a supplier brings a better option to us we’ll definitely consider it, but right now we’re focusing on the reuse and recycle business,” he said.

Winford said the company is also aiming to cut down plastic usage within the store and is working on minimising its other plastic and Styrofoam packaging.

Winford said Massy Stores has already carried out its plastic bag initiative in Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines and said these islands are already ahead in terms of recycling legislation.

Barbados has already initiated the Returnable Containers Act which allows for customers to return plastic bottles. Meanwhile in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Styrofoam products have already been banned.

As for Trinbagonians who still don’t see the dangers of plastic? Winford had some additional advice.

“Watch ‘A Plastic Ocean’ and see the damage that plastic is having on our oceans, then let’s talk,” he said.

The company is encouraging the public to follow their initiatives on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/massystorestt to see how they are working to reduce their environmental impact.

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