A verse of poem by the 13th-century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi, on the supermarket’s wall may shed some light on his novel idea which is construed as, “No matter if you are the only one who wants peace and light in a world where everyone else is lost in the darkness of war. You are responsible to light your own candle.”
It is not a supermarket you can see everywhere. It is different, of course in a good way. Green Market, as they call it, is quite similar to other supermarkets at first glance and should you not pay attention to the details, you may not tell the difference.
In his interview with Jamejam news website, as translated by IFP, Rahman Ekhtiari, the owner of the supermarket, gave thought-provoking answers as follows:
Q- How long have you been in this job?
A- About 19 years.
Q- More than a month ago, the Environment and Sustainable Development Centre of Tehran Municipality praised you as an environmentalist on a day that marked the International Plastic Bag Free Day. Why did they pick you?
A- Because I use cloth bags instead of plastic ones.
Q- How did you come up with that idea?
A- Plastic bags are profusely used in markets and supermarkets. We all know that plastics can take quite long years to completely biodegrade, and resources are wasted in the process. They say the very same plastic bags that we simply hand over to the customers do not break down into the landfills as long as five generations. It is sad to say that these plastic bottles and bags are everywhere in the nature, inasmuch as you don’t feel like going out to the nature anymore.
Q- There’s no doubt that other people should have seen these ugly scenes in the nature as well or have heard about the harms these plastic items can bring to the nature. But they often say to themselves that it will make no good if only one person refrains from using plastic bags. Does that thing ever cross your mind?
A- Of course not. I’ve always tried to follow a verse from Rumi that says, “No matter if you are the only one who wants peace and light in a world where everyone else is lost in the darkness of war. You are responsible to light your own candle.”
Q- How many plastic bags did you use before you started this initiate?
A- I used to finish 4 twenty-kilo packages, i.e. 80 kilograms of plastic bags every month.
Q- How many plastic bags are there in every kilogram?
Q- Correct me if I’m wrong; this means that every year you used to give out 249,600 plastic bags to the customers?
A- Yes, pretty much.
Q- I assume that holds true for other supermarkets as well. Am I right?
A- That number applies to the entire supermarkets in the city; however, it may be a little different in less crowded areas of the city.
Q- How much did you pay for 80 kilos of plastic bags?
A- Around $99 to $141.
Q- How much do you spend on cloth bags?
A- The cloth bags that I use here come in two sizes. The big ones are 50*35cm that cost me around $0.15 each, and the small ones are 25*30cm, for which I pay around $0.10.
Q- Are they free?
A- They are pretty much like plastic bags, so yes. I give them for free to encourage the customers to use them.
Q- But for a supermarket owner, it does not seem a provident decision! Is it economical?
A-You are right; however I believe it will take no longer than a few months before you feel it is actually cost-effective. If the customers assimilate the culture and bring their cloth bags when they come here to buy groceries, the supermarket owner does not have to spend money on bags anymore.
Q- How have the customers reacted to your novel idea?
A- Although it came as a surprise to most of them, they actually welcomed the idea since the beginning. Some of my customers thought they had to pay for the bags. The good news is that recently I’ve heard they are using the same cloth bags to buy meat, bread, fruits or other stuff. I believe this will bring considerable environmental benefits for my country.
Q- Has anyone ever opposed you?
A- Fortunately not at all. Some of my customers even give back the cloth bag when they are buying only one item like a bottle of milk.
Q- What are all these pro-environment poems and messages that you have stuck on the supermarket walls?
A- I thought I’d better give my reasons for what I’m trying to do here through these poems and messages.
Active Members of “No to Plastic Bags” Campaign
In order to have an interview with the regular customers of Green Supermarket and to hear what they have to say, we hung out for a few minutes to see many men and women coming to Mr. Ekhtiari’s supermarket to buy groceries while holding the same cloth bags they had received on the first day.
Though unknowingly, they have become active members of a spontaneous grassroots campaign; “No to Plastic Bags”.
Mrs. Eyvazi, a housewife: Around a month ago I came to this supermarket for the first time to buy dairy products. I received all my groceries in a cloth bag which I still have and take with me when I go shopping. Therefore, I tell the sellers that I don’t need a plastic bag; I have my own cloth bag!
Mr. Farahani, a retired teacher: There were no plastic bags when I was a child. My father used to come home with groceries in a paper bag and my mother with a big basket. Unfortunately, these days we buy everything, from groceries to clothes, in plastic bags.
Tablecloth of Kindness!
You must have heard of the “Wall of Kindness”; an initiative encouraging people to help those in need. Here in the Green Supermarket we are introduced to a new version of that; the “tablecloth of kindness”.
“One of my customers has actually put the idea in my head. He paid for such food items as water, milk, egg, bread, etc. that are routinely consumed by people, and laid the responsibility on me to give them out to the needy people,” Ekhtiari said.
He stressed that the initiative gradually became widespread and people widely welcomed that. We bought a whiteboard to write the names of the goods that were paid for by people.