The Supermarket and Other’s Vicious, Unhealthy Attacks on Our Environment

The seemingly innocuous rows of glass-fronted freezer doors in our supermarkets are, minute-by-minute, chiseling away at our environment, and this needs to be stopped.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Eduardo Soares

Supermarkets have been laid out to lure you to impulse purchases and the most expensive items. The shopping is in a pattern designed by following hundreds of unwary customers. Have you ever noticed the end displays or the ones you bump into as you try to walk the aisles? All of them are planned for profit.

I was one of those who shadowed customers, noting what they picked up, putting back, or stacked in their carts. All of it was marked on a store layout I held.

I also had a tape recorder to memorialize comments I could squeeze out of them as they shopped. I can’t tell you the strange looks I got.

The one thing neither the shoppers nor I ever gave one iota of time to was those huge glass-doored freezers in the middle of the store. Frozen and refrigerated foods are a fact of life. But they are also damaging our environment as the freezer units slowly puff out dangerous gases to contribute to climate change— hydrofluorocarbons.

Conscientious shoppers close the freezer doors quickly to retain the cool air. None of them realize that all the while, the dangerous gases that cool the freezers are seeping out all around them even when the door is closed.

Image for post
Image for post
HFC molecule, ecology.wa.gov

What Do These Gases Do?

Once they break down in the troposphere, the gases are “highly effective at trapping solar radiation (specifically, infrared radiation) and redirecting that radiant energy toward Earth’s surface.”

The production of CFCs was prohibited in 1996 to protect the Earth’s ozone layer from its damaging effects. The result was that newer gases were formulated such as HFCs, which were seen as more environmentally friendly.

The primary reason for the regulations was climate warming. But the HFCs are not benign gases. And the law had one loophole. Production and import of the CFC gases could be maintained for existing equipment through 2019.

Coming into effect for refrigerated equipment for both home and food processing/dispensing equipment, the updated EPA regulations indicate, again, this does not apply to all equipment. “The law focuses on reducing the use of HFCs in new equipment, so manufacturers and distributors must meet these requirements. In most cases, residents and businesses that own or use equipment containing HFCs will not need to do anything to obey the law.”

While acting to destroy ozone, CFCs and HCFCs also act to trap heat in the lower atmosphere, causing the earth to warm and climate and weather to change. HFCs, which originally were developed to replace CFCs and HCFCs, also absorb and trap infrared radiation or heat in the lower atmosphere of the earth.” The result is not good.

The sum total of all ozone-damaging gases is expected to raise the temperature from 2.5 to 8 degrees by the end of the century.

Image for post
Image for post
Copyright: Aleksei Gorodenkov

How Are Supermarkets Contributing to the Problem?

A study of multiple supermarkets in the United States uncovered how serious the problem might be from the stores’ refrigeration units.

In an extensive report, the Environmental Investigation Agency detailed its findings. “Supermarkets all across the country are leaking refrigerants, greenhouse gases thousands of times worse for the climate than CO2. A single supermarket emits 875 pounds of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) each year, equal to the carbon dioxide from more than 300 cars.”

The gas leaks are undetectable except with specialized equipment. They are colorless, odorless, hidden, and not easily spotted for remediation except with special meters. After the initial readings, the investigators revisited the sites and found the problem still existed and had not been addressed.

One conclusion of the inspections by the group highlighted the seriousness. “EIA findings scratch the surface of the systemic leakage issue, as a majority of refrigerant leaks occur away from the display cases in areas inaccessible to everyday customers and our investigators. The problem is likely much worse.”

The problem, therefore, is not limited to supermarkets alone. Consideration must be given to the entire supply chain where refrigeration is required for thousands of products. Each link contributes to the gases being released into the environment and the air in the atmosphere.

Consumers can be involved, if they wish, by indicating to involved corporations their concern about detection and repair of faulty equipment. Our lives and those of generations to come depend on active participation.

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website: http://t.co/VT8mvcAvRz

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store