Reducing Single Use Plastic
You want the short answer on how to reduce single use plastics? VOTE.
But be careful what you wish for.
Vote is the short answer. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. After all, why reduce single use plastics at all? What are we trying to do here? Reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Reduce overall negative environmental impact of us human’s being on the planet? or just stop turtles eating plastic bags that look like jelly fish?
Our answer to what we are trying to do, is all of the above.
So sure, VOTE, but vote for someone who has a plastic policy which is linked to a wider environmental policy which is linked to a farming policy which is linked to a soil health policy which is linked to a recycling policy which is linked to a trade policy. You get the picture. Someone who has ACTUALLY thought about it, at least a tiny bit. Not someone who just reacts in a kneejerk way to whatever the latest misinformed tabloid headline says. And if you can find someone like that to vote for, tell us and all your friends!
We are not scientists, we are not experts in one field or other, but we did set the business up to try and have a positive impact. So we are paying attention. We are listening and we are learning as much as we can. What we’ve learnt so far is that headline grabbing simple policy solutions are likely to do more harm than good. A solution that will help, overall, is probably going to take more than 140 characters on twitter to explain. If we’re wrong and anyone out there has a magic bullet that we’ve missed…don’t be a stranger… please do get in touch.
The community we serve cares about this stuff. It’s what makes it such a pleasure to be involved. So we thought we’d give you guys a a precis of what we have learnt so far. Hopefully it explains some of the blind alleys we’ve explored, and also the reasons we are doing what we’re doing.
So how do we reduced our impact, overall. What’s top of the list? What can we do, and what is simply impossible at the moment? (It’s worth bearing in mind that there are a few things that we can’t do anything about – rules that we simply have to stick to, in order to be in business. This isn’t a rant against red type. This stuff is food safety regs. Important.)
The biggest single thing we can do, is what Sir David Attenborough preaches. Don’t waste anything. Food waste is by itself the third biggest emitter of CO2 behind the USA and China – we already grow enough food to feed 10 billion people, but we throw away 3billion people’s worth each year. Working with co-operatives that teach local farmers to dry their fruit crops in a way that means they are exportable is one way we are reducing waste. Using the best air and vapour barriers we can to wrap our finished foods in is another. That, so it happens, is plastic.
In the meantime, what we have learned, is that plastic is an incredible material. Plastic itself is not the devil. Plastic in the wrong place is. Polypropylene (the plastic our wrappers are made from) is often regarded as a waste gas at oil refineries, so if it isn't used, it would just get burnt; an immediate release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Making wrappers out of plastic is a relatively clean and energy efficient process. It remains about the best thing there is for the job. It keeps CO2 from the atmosphere for a little longer. And is recyclable.
The issue is that waste management infrastructure and regulation in much of the developed world is badly managed, poorly supported and under invested. Guy Singh-Watson, founder of Riverford Organic, the veg box company, has a much larger budget than we do, and a team of people working specifically to look at the entire life cycle of their packaging. He has stated that this task, without central government leadership, is effectively impossible. There are over 30 different recycling standards in various councils just across England. No one can design packaging that has an end to end life cycle if they are aiming at 30 different places.
Even though plastic works, and works well, we have spent 18 months trying to find ‘home compostable non plastic wrappers’ for our bars. Unfortunately, given the wide temperature range our bars and therefore wrappers have to be able to cope with, there doesn't seem to be a product that exists, that is home compostable, can handle fine printing (required for allergy information, remember those food regs!), that works on a flow wrap line, has similar water and moisture barrier properties to polypropylene (essential to give a reasonable shelf life and stop waste), and also works at -20 to +40 degrees, and can sit on a shelf in a factory for 18 months waiting to be used. There are a couple that sort of do an OK job of some of those things. But nothing that actually works. If anyone knows of an answer...we'd love to hear about it!
While we’re on the topic – compostable – total minefield. Compostable packaging that doesn’t specifically say home compostable will only compost under industrial composting processes – which are pretty hard to find. If you stick it in the garden, or the bin, it’ll end up in landfill for ages, just like plastic. But worse, if you try to recycle it, it will clog up the machines. That goes for the home compostable stuff as well.
So reduced waste. That’s a biggy. Probably THE biggy. That’s why a vote to instantly ban single use plastic would almost certainly be an unmitigated environmental disaster.
But what about these damn plastics. As we’ve said, plastic is an amazing material, better than anything else currently available at doing the job we need it to do. What’s a disaster, is plastic inside birds, fish and other places it shouldn’t be. That bit, friends, is on you. The first bit is obvious. Don’t drop it. Don’t litter. It’s basic stuff.
The second bit is harder. Governments SHOULD be doing it, but aren’t, because it’s hard. Recycle it. Recycling plastic film is possible. Work with your local climbing wall, your local community or whoever else cares to find a way of making it work. We have worked with numerous climbing walls to introduce teracycle zero waste boxes to make this a reality. https://www.terracycle.com/en-GB/zero_waste_boxes
There are also bigger schemes in the pipeline which should make it easier for us all to recycle plastic film. Firms like https://renewelp.co.uk/. We have been in early contact with them to see if we could contribute to their plastic feed stock once their plant is up and running.
And keep looking, keep talking to people who care, and if you find a solution, tell people about it.
So vote, ideally for someone who might address this issue as part of some joined up policy thikning, and improve the circularity of the economy of plastic, not just mindlessly ban it as a headline grabbing stunt...