"Eco-friendly" Sweden

“Eco-friendly” Sweden

There are a lot of preconceptions I held regarding Sweden before I stepped foot in the country.

I had all sorts of ideas about its liberal, left-wing government; number of feminists per capita; water purity; percentage of average diet made up of fish products; and, most importantly, level of environmental awareness.

So it was with a sense of breathless excitement that I entered my very first Swedish supermarket.

Imagine my surprise when, instead of piles of organic vegetables and fruit laid bare and ready to pack into paper bags, I found a strange assortment of “fresh produce” stuffed into plastic nets, plastic bags, plastic containers and – in some cases – styrofoam.

Cheese in clingwrap.

Cheese in clingwrap.

Let it be said that the Swedish supermarkets do have an “ekologisk” version of almost every kind of food but, as far as fruit and veg goes, almost everything with an eco label is bathed in plastic.

Two limes to a net.

Two limes to a net.

Bread in a bag of combined paper and plastic, requiring it be torn apart before recycling.

Bread in a bag of combined paper and plastic, requiring it be torn apart before recycling.

According to Felix, Sweden was birthplace to the inventor of Tetra Paks. That’s cool. A cardboard container to store milk, juice and other liquids.

But almost every Tetra Pak has a plastic spout.

As far as I am aware – and my searching has been extensive – I am unable to buy a cucumber that is not shrink-wrapped in plastic.

In a world where our education regarding plastics in the ocean and the effect they have on the world’s ecosystems and even our health is no longer the product of the ravings from an acid-crazed “lefty,” it seems that we could be doing better.

It’s a mainstream and well-known problem that we’re facing.

Follow these links if you’d like to read a bit about the broader issues surrounding single-use plastics.

It makes grocery shopping an enormously guilty exercise for me.

Rosemarie in a plastic pot.

Rosemarie in a plastic pot.

I looked at the local “bio shop”, Fram, but their fresh produce is laced to the gills with plastic as well!

Go to the deli, ask for a piece of cheese, they wrap it in plastic.

Buy a glass bottle of tomato ketchup (they don’t have straight out tomato sauce around here, I must tragically note) and, under the lid, it’s a plastic seal!

It’s also not just a problem that Sweden faces. I’ve literally never shopped anywhere that was plastic-free.

It was a huge problem in Newcastle as well. There were more fruit and vegetables outside their packaging, but plenty of it was wrapped up.

ALDI was the biggest offender, with almost everything from their fresh section coming housed in a polystyrene tray and then coated in clingwrap.

But at least in Newcastle there were farmers markets twice a week by the time I left the country.

One could amble down to the showgrounds were at least 200 stallholders regularly set up shop and sold their local produce. Sometimes they wrapped their stuff in plastic but there was also plenty that they just let be.

It’s too cold in Sweden for that sort of local production – apart from berries and fish – so there are really no alternatives.

I’m going to be honest here because I feel bad about something.

On the first of April, I decided to stop buying plastic stuff. I pledged that I would take a picture of everything I couldn’t (or didn’t) avoid over the course of each day for the whole month and that I would have to keep it in a big pile and show it off at the end of the month.

But then we started running into problems. Everything had plastic in it. Even the disgusting stuff like ear buds and even some tampons.

So I gave up on the first day.

Our soft plastics recycling bin.

Our soft plastics recycling bin.

I couldn’t buy food at a vendor because they automatically put a plastic fork in it and stuck it in a plastic container.

Buying fresh olives from Saluhallen, Gothenburg’s biggest indoor gourmet food hall thing, they were placed inside a plastic container, stickytaped shut with plastic stickytape, put inside a plastic bag and then handed over the counter.

In Australia, I might have said “No! Stop! I don’t want that stuff!” but here, it’s a bit harder.

I don’t want to be the wanky tourist who tells people what to do in their hometown.

I could probably rant about this for awhile but it’s going to get boring.

If anybody has any tips on how to buy more ethically in Gothenburg, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.