The BBC programme Blue Planet II may well be looked back on as a pivotal point in the British people’s attitude to excess plastic in our food packaging. The tide of public opinion has turned. What we need now are producers, retailers and local authorities to act. Many local councils do not recycle plastic. They must. Those local authorities that do offer plastic recycling of sorts are apparently sending the plastic to China to be recycled increasing the carbon footprint. Why are we not doing this here?
This week Theresa May declared that all plastic waste would be eliminated by 2042. That is what you might call a conservative announcement. Iceland (the retailer, not the country) said that they would do this by 2023. If a large retailer can do this in 5 years, why is the government target 25 years? The technology is available now to producers to use compostable materials for their packaging, yet many have not explored the options here due to cost. Yes, it will cost more, but once some larger companies commit to doing this, it will drive the cost down and make it more possible for others.
How concerned are speciality retailers about packaging of the products within their store? Are they looking for products with high environmental characteristics? I would suggest that this issue is not currently high up their agenda at present when they are sourcing new products. However, this is a minor issue compared to how they receive their deliveries. Most retailers I talk to agree that they have too many deliveries into their stores, yet few seem to do anything about this. Not only does this represent more time, but it vastly increases packaging waste. Consolidation, through a wholesaler, where the goods arrive on a recycled pallet, or in the back of a van or lorry, you only have the outer case as packaging waste. Boxes of product arriving by courier are often within other boxes or surrounded by bubble-wrap, vastly increasing the packaging waste generated by retailers ordering too many products direct from producers.
With chilled un-consolidated deliveries, the problem is seriously worse. Cardboard boxes with plastic chilled packaging within them, or even worse, polystyrene boxes are killing any aim of speciality food retailers to be environmentally-friendly. Indeed, it was the concern of one farm shop owner about the mountain of polystyrene outside their shop that caused me to look into the option for Cotswold Fayre to go into chilled originally. This retailer and many others now receive their chilled product from the back of a chilled van with no extra packaging at all. In addition, the reduction of deliveries to a retailer further benefits the environment by fewer vehicles being used in stocking their shops. Yet even many chilled producers continue sending out their deliveries direct to retailers with seemingly no concern for the environment.
Hopefully we will start to see this change after the Blue Planet effect.