With supermarkets in the headlines so often, and for so many predatory cruel and exploitative reasons, we now (and quite rightly, I reckon) view everything they do with suspicion and outright skepticism.
What Have They Done This Time?
A few places have for a long time been offering specialised collection for old batteries. Since their soft-plastics recycling credibility is in the bin with the collapse of that particular little exercise in greenwashing themselves, supermarkets are now realising that there's money in old batteries, especially since that's become the knee-jerk topic of the day in light of people wanting to see fossil fuels ditched and new batteries set up to supply reliable energy. I think it's going to be another load of shit but first -
Let me start with some history. (Or go here to skip all the history...)
A Historical: Milk
Almost a decade ago they came into the spotlight because they were screwing (sorry, but there's no nice way to talk about supermarkets) their dairy farmer producers and their customers. They stopped paying for milk by the litre and started paying for the evaporated solids in the milk by the tonne, which they then "reconstitute" to give their customers a "more consistent experience."
What that actually meant was that they could more easily stockpile milk solids so that they could slowly and imperceptibly give themselves so much leeway that they could easily deprive the dairy producers of their income for a whole season if need be, to bring them to heel and accept any price the supermarkets chose to dribble their way.
What else it actually meant was that they'd buy the milk solids from (say) 10 megalitres of dairy milk and somehow along the way that would reconstitute into 15 megalitres of "a consistent consumer experience." If you think that sounds like 15 megalitres of bullshit and screwing the customers then I'd have to agree with you.
Also there's "permeate" which is the liquid left behind after the solids have been extracted, i.e. it's pretty much water with a shelf life, and sometimes, there's whey, the watery liquid left after making cheese from liquid milk. That's sometimes added to the "a consistent consumer experience" and there was a bit of a furore about all that a decade back if you remember.
In fact, that was when the whole milk scandal broke and several farmers' cooperatives ended up broke, and when the dairy farmers complained that they got less for the solids of each kilolite of milk than they'd gotten for a kilolitre of milk before. And then the ever-obliging supermarkets added the small surcharge that they assured us was going to go to the dairy farmers - until it was revealed that not even half of that surcharge actually was getting to them.
This is how supermarkets operate - the co-ops were the farmers' way of having a way to negotiate a better deal from the supermarkets, the co-ops began to look out for themselves rather than the farmers they were created by and started competing with each other for larger contracts with supermarkets - albeit at lower prices - and the whole lot slid down the wash-chute. The farmers didn't profit by it, the customers were being charged an extra - was it a dollar? I think it was? - for no discernible benefit to the farmers, and the supermarket shareholders creamed themselves at the obscene profits.
A Historical: Meat
Several decades ago I came across a few factoids that I felt could be stitched together in a slightly sinister fashion. I was investigating some meat in China (sorry this is not a rant against the Chinese, just the tip of an iceberg that started my investigation) that had been circulating from not legal cold store to illegal warehouse to some other dodgy storage, and was being sold to makers of all manner of meat products, dim sum, spring rolls, tinned and frozen meals, etc.
And why I found out about it was because some of these products were finding their way to Western supermarket shelves. This meat was in many cases "mystery meat" that had been sold and resold so many times that it was a best guess as to whether it had started out as beef, pork, poultry, or whatever. It was moved from one operator to another, sometimes in a chiller or freezer truck, often just piled on the back of open trucks with a covering of rag or canvas, sometimes not even that.
Why this came to media attention is that some of it seems to have been circulating like that for thirty years. And I need to make it clear - I couldn't verify this in person but there were quite a few sources for the information, and so I'm going with a healthy kernel of truth in that. At the time I was also reading about garlic grown in the fields where human excrement from sewage works had been spread to dry and compost, handled and packed on the ground in the same places, then fumigated with methyl bromide because we in Australia wouldn't accept it just as packed.
And among the news snippets I turned up while investigating that, I found hints that supermarkets themselves seemed to already have invested in deep deep cold storage research and possibly facilities, the kind where meat is cooled, then frozen to normal levels, then transferred to an intermediate deep cold freezer and finally to the deep cold storage freezer.
Details are sketchy but basically at the end of normal cold chain management, meat can (apparently) be taken to slightly colder than normal freezing, and then once the cells are frozen and thus stabilised, taken to a much colder temperature, and finally transferred to a storage facility at that same low low temperature, and be stored like that for a long time.
Keeping the final storage unit's temperature rock-stable seemed to be important, hence the complicated pre-freezing and special handling. But what I read indicated that quite possible meat preserved in this way could be stored for decades, then slowly brought back to room temperature, and be indistinguishable from normally frozen meat.
I'm stressing here that this is much speculation on my part. But given how supermarkets behave, it's not beyond belief that some of the meat that goes into pies and meatloaves and sausages, or sold as frozen cuts, was purchased ten or twenty years ago at then-current low prices, and is now being sold at today's hugely inflated prices. The piddling price of storing each kilo of meat for ten years pales in comparison to the profits to be made by buying it at the 2004 supermarket cost of $2.50 per kilo and selling it at today's $16.00 per kilo prices...
But Even If
... we're talking about supermarkets buying lamb today at $4/kg and selling it at $18/kg, I'm sure you can name the two groups of people who are being shafted... They will always make that profit, and once they have a huge profit, will go on to make it obscenely huge, then obscenely and exploitatively huge, and finally, just plain murder on the demographic that can now no longer afford "fresh" milk, "fresh" meat, and "fresh" fruit and vegies and are now basically living on fast food and possibly some kind of shitty bread that's been pre-risen and pre-baked in Ireland, frozen and shipped here for pennies, then finished baking in their store ovens and sold for dollars - many many many dollars.
(BTW: read up on the history of bakers and bakeries, the way orchards and some market gardeners store this year's harvest excess and sell it next year, while the supermarkets are busy buying that produce, storing it for another year and in some cases, longer, and then selling it at fresh food people prices. It all does happen, gets a few articles in the news, and then forgotten. We are sooooooo good at forgetting their sins and letting them keep getting away with them...)
A Historical: Plastic Bags
Not so long ago, supermarkets grudgingly agreed to stop supplying plastic bags to shoppers and start charging for them if anyone didn't bring a re-usable bag of their own. Then they magnanimously offered to collect soft plastics for REDcycle or whatever the company was that was found to just have stashed over 11,000 tonnes of bags because they actually didn't have a viable plan to recycle them.
"Customers had been told that soft plastic items like bags, ice cream wrappers and bubble wrap were being recycled en masse into useful products such as shopping trolleys, traffic bollards, gardening kits, and asphalt and concrete additives."
In fact, four years later the woman then heading REDcycle said they weren't able to sell anyone on the idea of adding plastic pellets to asphalt for roadbase, and that said to me that pretty much they'd been pinning their entire venture on making pelletised asphalt additives.
In fact, and reading further and also between the lines, it seems that there were no other plans at all, which isn't surprising seeing as how LDPE - which is what the majority of soft plastics are - is too soft to form into "...shopping trolleys, traffic bollards, ...and... gardening kits..." and the only way to profitably recycle it is in combination with a mix of other plastics and sand into hard burnt bricks or pavers. It can also be recycled into shoe components and other soft products but none of those would stand up to a hot Aussie summer day in the sun since LDPE can melt at temperatures 65C which are easily attainable if left in the sun on a 40C day.
What seems even worse, is that REDcycle appears not to have actually even had a plant for burning LDPE with sand and other plastics into roadbase aggregate. So basically, who was surprised when they wanted to sell a material that would have been on par with, or more expensive than, commonly dug up aggregates, without knowing exactly how the new aggregate would behave in Australia's baking temperatures, whether it would become a new biohazard in the form of microplastics once car tyres started wearing on it - and which would be coming from a plant that apparently still hadn't been built?
Someone made a lot of money setting up REDcycle and then bankrupting it. Someone made a lot of mileage from the "sustainable, look at us, we're even recycling plastic bags now!" image they projected. And apparently no-one thought to check that what REDcycle would actually be able to deliver what they offered to.
Remember when they started putting these in? To "...make the shopping experience faster and more convenient for shoppers..."? I remember it. Almost unanimously, shoppers hated it. They found them inconvenient, intrusive, and a further burden on their time.
Oh and then they still reduced staff. And had the gall to ask for the government to provide police to stand around their self-checkouts. They wanted the government to pay those cops but station them at every supermarket. THESE are the corporations now wanting us to trust that this time, for sure, this time - they'd not shaft us in some way or other.
Bringing us into the present. And yes I made you read down to here to get hold of the link to the story. I'm a bad man. But there's a point I want to hammer home - supermarkets are Evil. And Incompetent at doing anything Good, Fresh, Healthy, or Environmentally Friendly. Big Food has had almost two centuries to home every bastard trick in the book to take our money and give us and the producers as little as possible in return for it.
Putting in recycling bins for batteries is one of those things - the supermarkets really don't need to do much, the recyclers will deal with the bins. If the recyclers don't come, they can and will just send that bin to landfill without a shred of remorse.
Now I mentioned way back at the beginning of this article that there have already been shops having recycling bins for batteries, for - oh ... about ... - a few decades now. We've for over ten years had a cut-down 3litre milk jug that's labelled "The Battery Oubliette" and into which our deceased battteries go and every so often I make a detour into one of those shops to drop whatever the Oubliette has allowed us to forget. (The word "oubliette" is - like our milk jug - a place with an entrance only at the top, and the word came from the French root word oublier, to forget, because they'd drop inconvenient prisoners down an oubliette and then - forget about them... In our case, we use it so we don't forget that batteries are better recycled than in landfill.)
Am I In Favour?
No. Not really. Supermarkets only touch something if they can squeeze street cred or extra profits out of that thing. They don't give a flying fig about what happens to the batteries after they've delivered them there, and we can see how well their other greenwashing exercise with soft plastics went. I noticed that they are "B-Cycle certified" but what does that even mean? What happened to the way batteries were recycled before, with other collection sites? Is that suddenly going to be swept away by "B-Cycle certified" companies that will wipe out the old recycling outfits, and then go broke so that the pollution can continue?
Does it bind the supermarkets to provide the collected batteries to a certified battery recycler or will they be free to find another one, one that they perhaps have some stock in? "We sell you the batteries - profit. You give us the batteries back - no profit for you. We recycle the batteries for valuable components and chemicals - oh look, we profit again!"
Or perhaps another RedCycle, what, exactly, do the supermarkets care as long as they've been seen to have acted in a way that can be misconstrued as being "good." That they aren't, doesn't matter. As long as the customer public doesn't question it. This is why they're so glad that the media doesn't make a big deal out of stories like the ones all throughout my article. They rely on us forgetting it really really quickly.
And the media is built around filling our need for news. By definition, a story about some petty crimes in the milk supply chain ten years ago is no longer "news" and so we don't get follow-ups, nor will the journalists refer us back to that if they can just get you reading whatever is the media circus of the day.
I mean - RedCycle - when you saw "battery recycling" did it make you remember that other fiasco? Probably not. I only remembered it because it's a topic of particular interest to me.
So I'm in favour of ignoring the supermarket battery recycle bins - as long as it doesn't cost you time or a detour - and go seeking out the places that have existed for the last 20-30 years with battery recycling bins, and make sure your waste batteries actually get recycled. We have as usual no idea whether batteries recycled at the supermarkets will get recycled or end up as another warehoused disaster.
If there was a very transparent public statement as to exactly which battery recyclers these batteries are going to, that'd be lovely thank you supermarkets. But until that happens, I'm going to the places where I know my batteries are actually going to be recycled.
I'm also going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say that ALDI was one of the first supermarkets to put battery recycling bins in their stores. And as far as I could tell, those batteries actually did get recycled. I'm not sure what happens now, haven't checked for a few years. But ALDI is the only one I halfway trust to do this right.
Ask your Coles or Woolies manager to tell you exactly where their battery collection bins go to be emptied. See how many straight, confident, and BS-free answers you get.
What Can We Do?
You and I and everyone you can talk to about it, and should share and publicise stories like this one I'm writing. I'd love it if you shared it. I'd love it if you followed me by reading about my other posts at https://rebrand.ly/tedsnews and shared that link with your social media too. We're only going to win this war with corporations if we do things like this - many small actions by hundreds of thousands of us to publicise these sorts of things and called them out.
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