I recently attended a talk by City Girl Network and Creative Bloom, who have set out to collect and present data to brand giants such as Unilever. They hope to influence groundbreaking changes to products with their #TrashTalk campaign to safeguard the future of our planet and have set up a survey to enable your opinions to be presented to major brands. This survey has now closed but it has been turned into a white paper with the aim to influence positive change for the future of plastic packaging.
There was a recent government consultation on plastics with record responses illustrating the current appetite for change. This will be used to hopefully influence policy whereas Trash Talk will be directly presented to the brands themselves meaning you have the opportunity to make a difference at the coal face. The #TrashTalk campaign inspired me to learn a bit more about the issues of packaging.
Why should you care?
In the UK we produce over 200 million tonnes of waste per year – that’s equivalent to over a million blue whales! Household waste is a key area to tackle and something that we can all impact and have our say. Currently, of the plastics we use only 3% are recycled in the UK (DEFRA stats).
Plastic waste will be around long after any of us. We are leaving a plastic legacy for our Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandchildren to deal with. Since Blue Planet aired on TV both the press and public are more aware of the plastic issue. But I really hope that this discussion will begin to focus more on long term sustainable solutions rather than just the problem. I am inspired by kids like Amy and Ella Meek taking matters into their own hands, cleaning beaches and campaigning for change. As part of the 70s born plastics era who helped to create this problem I also want to do my bit. Please join me in my rebellion against rubbish.
Change is Easy and Possible
You only need look at the success of the plastic bag charge to see how easy change can be. A 90% reduction in one year by the introduction of a mere 5p charge per bag (25p total on an average shop). It is now normal to take bags to the shop with you.
With that normalisation in mind, what would happen if all single use coffee cups were banned? Would the world fall apart? Probably not. More likely, it would become normal to sit in and drink your coffee. Or use a reuse cup or maybe just go without (shock horror!). Take away coffee wasn’t a thing not long ago. What has truly changed that means that this is now an essential part of our daily lives?
Consider the ‘Hidden Rucksack’
Ecological (or ‘Hidden’) Rucksacks represent the materials used and the impacts of a product that are not within the product itself. Kind of like a hidden waste footprint.
An example would be an aluminium can. To make a can from virgin material it would likely be mined in Australia or South Africa, often with the social impact of turfing indigenous people off land. The carbon footprint would therefore start to build as it is shipped over to Iceland for the initial stage of processing. In Iceland they have cheap hydroelectricity so it is sent there to take advantage of that. It may then go to Germany to be pressed into sheets. Then to the canning company where ever that may be. Finally being sent to the end manufacturer. All this leads to a high production cost from virgin material to product which therefore means aluminium has a high value. This is reflected by its high recycling rate with 75% of all aluminium ever produced remaining in productive use.
All materials have a hidden rucksack of waste, plastic included. Many are familiar with the sight of marine creatures covered in an oil spill slick. This is an extreme example of the impact of plastic but a very real one.
With the recent awareness there has been much discussion around replacing plastic in packaging. However we must exercise caution in considering which materials we use. For instance the ‘Hidden Rucksack’ of paper is three times that of plastic. So, while it is better for our oceans, it may not be better for our forests. We need both (each provide 50% the oxygen in the air we breathe) and so paper may not be a viable replacement. Bamboo could possibly be a good option as it has a high regrowth rate and therefore can be sourced sustainably. I would love to report that there was a simple solution to the plastic crisis. However, the reality is that we are going to have to look at each product, the materials in it and how it can be redesigned. By doing this hopefully we can find solutions that use sustainable materials or businesses that operate a circular closed loop recycling system.
In my opinion, reducing all packaging and getting rid of all unnecessary packaging is the best solution. In the instances where packaging is needed, we need to look for reusable and sustainable materials when all things are considered, including the hidden rucksack.
We Need Packaging to Keep Food Fresh and For Convenience, Don’t We….?
Apart from the chemicals leaching into food (which clearly counter balances the ‘freshness’ argument), there are plenty of other instances where this can be debunked. For example, over 70% of our UK apples travel from abroad, many from New Zealand. They don’t travel in plastic and seem to survive. Many things have their own ‘packaging’ which works perfectly well and yet is still double wrapped by retailers.
Yes, in some instances packed produce does last longer but in many instances packaging serves more as a convenience for the retailers than the consumer, giving them a means to up-sell or to help with their own stock taking system.
Once upon a time all our fruit and veg was loose and we survived. The difference is that we were growing local and eating seasonal. Globalisation has changed this for now but we also have the power as consumers to demand further change.
What Do You Want?
Brands and retailers are afraid of change as they think people might stop buying their products. The current packaging survey indicates that we like food packaged for convenience and speed as we no longer have time to put things in a bag to take it to the till. Are we really so lazy that we can’t add a couple of seconds onto our shop to put loose items in a reusable container?! Do we really want all this double layered wrapping that lasts forever and pollutes our environment? If this doesn’t sound right to you then please join me in having your say. Write to your favourite brands and put pressure on them to change. How about sending back their packaging to them so that they have to dispose of it. And by doing so ask them what they are doing to resolve the problem long term.
If you are interested in learning more about the recent government consultation here is a link to the report:
Sadly, despite the report the Government failed to implement the plastic tax that they mooted. There is therefore a lot more to be done.
Thank you for caring about our planet xoxo
There are loads of tips, advice and inspiring stories from those pioneering positive change for the environment just over on my podcast. I am sure the stories of these every day heroes will inspire you.