Photo Credit: Zoran Borojevic

Here’s why consumers aren’t ready to shift.

John Rbeiz
4 min readJun 10, 2020

Two years ago, I decided to ditch single-use plastic . I spent a whole week figuring out an action plan and a whole year re-learning how to live. It worked! But my god, it was hard…I received so much support throughout the transition — and I needed it. Friends and colleagues expressed admiration and encouragement on a daily basis. Some gifted me zero-waste essentials, some tagged me in every zero-waste post they saw, one even had me over for a “zero-waste” diner. It was overwhelming how much support I was receiving. But when I modestly asked “Would you consider giving it a go? We could do this together!” here’s what they usually said: “I guess I could…but [insert reason here]”.

I’m not one to judge. I mean fair enough we all have our priorities and have to pick our battles, but I won’t lie this triggered deep curiosity to understand what held people from walking the walk when they already talk the talk. And so I began investigating…

The shopping Experience

It’s inconvenient, it’s expensive and even though I was ready for it, I didn’t know where and how to buy half the things on my shopping list. A one-stop shop turned into a full day mission; not because buying loose spinach leaves is harder than buying packaged ones nor because refilling a bottle of oil is harder than buying it off the shelf… Let me give you an idea of what it takes to shop packaging-free in Melbourne in 2020.

Let’s assume you already remember your tote bags and your produce bags every time you go shopping. You prepare your shopping list, and you’re ready to go! But that’s not how it works.

Ditching all packaging means your trip to the supermarket will most probably turn into something like this:

Credit: Illustration by Roger Loo
  1. You’re excited you’re going to save the planet. You go through your list and start planning your route. Stop 1: the fresh produce store, Stop 2: The bulkfoods store and if you are craving olives, cheese or fish, you will need to add a stop to the deli and one at the fishmonger’s.
  2. You said no packaging right? So you need to take your own “packaging” with you — that’s how it works. Mesh bags for fresh produce, a plastic container for your fish another one for cheese and a bunch of jars for the olives and the pantry supplies. That’s when you frantically go looking everywhere in your kitchen hoping to find enough clean containers.
  3. Now that you’ve found them, remember to take them with you.
  4. As you enter the store, you pray they’ll allow you to use your containers.
  5. You have to weigh each container first (and keep a note of the weight). Good luck if you forget this step or if the person serving you isn’t trained to tare the scale properly.
  6. Repeat steps 4 & 5 at each store.
  7. Once you have ticked off everything on your list, you carry it all home.

By the time you get home you’re ready to take a week off. Alas…tomorrow is just another day, and next week you’ll have to do it all over again. It’s way too much for an average person with a full time life.

Deeper Insights

In April 2020, I interviewed and surveyed over 140 Melburnians about their shopping behaviours. I particularly wanted to hear from people who said they cared about the environment. Here’s what stood out: most people shop the way they do, due to the lack of a more convenient alternative.

Convenience above anything

Over 85% of participants noted that minimising waste while shopping is important to them, and yet, over half of them usually buy their groceries at one of the supermarket giants. With their unbeatable prices, their product range, their long opening hours and same-day deliveries, supermarkets undoubtedly remain the most convenient way to shop.

A Lack of Agency

Interestingly, most respondents mentioned minimising waste while shopping is a key annoyance and tended to blame the supermarkets. This worried me for a minute as they did not seem to view it as within their power to change. When I challenged this idea, they usually reverted back to blaming inconvenience and the overwhelming decision-making process one follows when shopping.

To become more sustainable, the shops need to change. So I asked what this would look like.

A disposable culture with a stronger desire for “Local”

Same but compostable. Same but paper. Same but [insert here]. This is how convenience led us to the disposable mindset we now live by. Surprisingly though, the word local was also frequently mentioned when interviewees explained how “locally produced” relates to sustainability and waste reduction.

While there seemed to be high awareness around the need to support local production, reducing food miles and food waste, there didn’t seem to be enough “incentive” for them to make the switch.

And what I think of all this?

“Fair enough!” That’s what I think. I can’t blame them for choosing the easy way, as we humans are hardwired to do so, especially if life is hard enough as it is. If we want to help them change, then we have to offer them an easy alternative: imagine you could walk into a store and tick off your shopping list without having to worry about your environmental impact. What would this look like?



John Rbeiz

Passionate about growth, sustainability and community development.