Plastic package waste sparks protest in Waterloo from students and community activists

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Graphic by Kash Patel

On Monday, Mar. 11, a group of approximately 25 student and community activists collected at Zehrs, located on Erb Street in Waterloo, to protest the use of excessive plastic packaging in grocery stores by large companies. 

This particular demonstration was directed towards Loblaws Companies Limited, the owner of Zehrs and several other grocery franchises. 

“We were inspired by the UK ‘plastic attacks’ — that’s what they call this genre of protest,” said Bryn McAuley, one the organizers of this demonstration. 

“In the UK, they started this movement where they would go into grocery stores, remove the plastic packaging and leave it behind. Part of the intention is to make it a nuisance … and show a visual representation that this plastic is excessive and to essentially make it the responsibility of the grocery store to deal with the plastic.”

“There was range [of students and locals]. We had Master of Public Policy students from Laurier and we had Master of Global Governance students from [the University of] Waterloo. Also, there were two families from the area,” McAuley said. 

“Loblaws and a lot of other big companies are focused on recycling and putting the onus on their consumers to recycle, but we just want to make it really clear that recycling is not a silver-bullet solution, because the vast majority of plastic does not get recycled.”

In attendance with the families, several children were also actively participating in the demonstration by helping to remove plastic wrapping from the groceries and excitedly repackaging produce into reusable containers. 

The demonstration was peaceful and, according to McAuley, Zehrs was “extremely cooperative” in allowing the activists to assemble at the front doors of the store. Additionally, customers seemed to be interested in what they were representing and there were no recognizably negative responses. 

 “We had initially planned to do this protest at Bob’s Valu-Mart, across the street from the Balsillie School — and we definitely got a negative response from there. They told us they would call mall security on us and have us removed,” McAuley said. 

“Bob’s is independently owned, and we realized this would be an inappropriate place to do this, so we targeted a company instead … Loblaws is ultimately the culprit in this situation,” McAuley said. 

“Targeting Loblaws was a more effective and more honest way to do this.”

McAuley and her co-organizers have plans in the works to continue their “plastic attacks” activism within the year while the global movement continues to grow. 

“We are planning another one at Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in July,” McAuley said.

“Loblaws and a lot of other big companies are focused on recycling and putting the onus on their consumers to recycle, but we just want to make it really clear that recycling is not a silver-bullet solution, because the vast majority of plastic does not get recycled …   That’s why we’re really putting the emphasis on stopping the plastic at the source,” McAuley said.

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