Guy’s news: Packaging: Doing our best in the world as we find it

As promised in February, we have spent the last 6 months reconsidering our packaging, with particular emphasis on plastics. Our conclusions and actions are as follows (and in more depth at riverford.co.uk/future-packaging):

1. We will continue to reduce the amount of plastic we use. Our research suggests that our veg boxes already use less than a quarter of the packaging of a major supermarket. We think we can reduce this further to nearer a tenth in the winter, when produce is typically less perishable.

2. By 2020, 95%+ of the single-use plastic we do use will be home compostable (fully degradable in 12 weeks under the temperatures typical of home composting). After polling our customers, it turns out that a staggering 83% of you home compost. We will ask those who can home compost to do so, and those who can’t to return all packaging for us to compost at the farm and use to grow our next crops.

Although not a perfect solution, it is a huge improvement; we are doing our best in the world as we find it. With that in mind, I have two comments:

1. Anthropogenic climate change is unquestionably the biggest environmental threat our planet faces. We must not allow the plastic debate to detract from this. Reducing plastic use does nothing to address climate change; in some instances, it can make it worse. We need pragmatic policies that balance all environmental impacts.

2. It is impossible for citizens or companies to instigate good packaging practices while every local authority has a different approach to kerbside collection. Of all the ‘recyclable’ plastic used in the UK, only a third is actually recycled. We desperately need an intelligent, long-term, national policy on what materials will be recycled, composted and incinerated or landfilled. In the current vacuum, effort is being wasted on ill-informed company policies and headline-grabbing claims that will deliver little of value. To abandon policy to individual choices and market forces is an abdication of responsibility and a failure of government… Time for action, Michael Gove.

Guy Singh-Watson

34 responses to “Guy’s news: Packaging: Doing our best in the world as we find it

  1. Very well said Guy. It must be the job of government to protect our environment (rather late in the day unfortunately).Pressure must be put on manufacturers and on commercial concerns to stop using non-re-cyclable packaging; and there must be a national policy for re-cycling. It is not fair to keep blaming the consumer for creating waste, when many people have little choice. If only all companies thought like you, and operated the same policies….keep up the good work.

    • Thanks so much Shirley, we are really excited about this new way forward and home compostable packaging is a really good, sustainable solution when recycling is not yet easy or consistent throughout the UK.

  2. And so say all of us! Well done Riverford for doing the very best you can – and thank you for taking these measures which helps all of us do the same.

  3. As a waste and recycling business owner I commend you for your position. We deal with a number of supermarkets and you wouldn’t believe the amount of wastage, poor segregation or recyclables and general not-committal of good practice that we see day in day out

  4. I so agree with Shirley, Cheryl and Chris! Keep up the good work, and the pressure on that awful Michael Gove. (I used to work in education, and there was dancing in our staff room when he left the Dept of Education and Science). But he is susceptible to pressure to be in with popular changes, maybe he will do the right thing in the end if enough pressure is brought to bear. The struggle continues!

  5. Well done and thank you for the plastic solution. Government really does drag its feet especially when you see many other countries doing much much more! Keep up the good work.

  6. Guy, in your Riverford years, you must have taken great leaps into the unknown! I feel sure your band of clients, would be happy to receive their goods from you unwrapped. When veg and fruit were purchased in the 60s eg. We had to take a bag or basket for collecting these goods. How about doing a straw poll, to get feedback on this idea?

    • Hi Sandra, we can’t leave packaging off all veg as some would dehydrate or get damaged without something to protect it on its journey from the farm to you, and we need to prevent food waste too. We have done lots of trials this year – by changing the way we handle and pack some veg (such as Cucumbers, Cabbages, Cauli’s) we have further reduced plastic in the vegboxes and replaced netting with a compostable alternative. Our boxes contain 77% less plastic than equivalent packaged products from major UK supermarkets, and there will be even less packaging in winter when the veg is a bit sturdier! https://www.riverford.co.uk/ndv/aboutus/thoughtful-packaging/lessplastic

  7. I think I agree with all your points, Guy – not least that the wider national/ international policy is key, and inadequate at present. Don’t know the answer, but feel it lies in the excessive consumption and aspects of our culture which support this.

  8. Two points:
    1. I have been worried by reports that in the USA the plastics manufacturers are investing in new plant because of the bonanza of fracked oil, produced in larger amounts than needed for other uses, that they can obtain as starting material for plastic production. I hope that cutting use will help to suppress this unwelcome development in the long run. It has been mentioned a few times in The Guardian, but has received remarkably little media attention here, even from those campaigning against fracking.
    2. Nearer to home – is it possible to avoid use of black plastic for meat, as this appears to be non-recyclable everywhere?

    • Hi Jenny, we will be changing to clear trays that can be more widely recycled. Until then if you want to leave the trays out for the driver when they collect your old boxes we can recycle them for you.

  9. As a supporter for many years, outraged when GM crops were being grown near to you, a now a regular box buyer, I’m delighted I will be able to return packaging for you to compost, as my ‘garden’ is a small yard, euphemistically known as the suntrap. My daughter in Buckinghamshire loves her recipe box and when it’s difficult for her to put out return boxes, she holds on to them and brings them to me. I shall be writing to my local newspaper to clarify what people should put in their recycling bags/boxes. No-one told us when they were issued that black plastic ruined everything.

  10. Hi yes I have noticed over the past year that plactic is not good i was born in the late 40s and I grew up with recycling so where did we.go wrong? Was it the supermarket,or the high street shops? Or us jo public believing all what the big guys said?

  11. Manufacturers and supermarkets are really only going to get serious about recycling and the reduction of plastic when their profits are hit. We need government policies that ensure that those bodies that continue to use unrecyclable materials are massively fined. Not in 2030 but within a short time frame. Are you listening, Mr Gove? And the income from such fines could be put towards conservation. What about all those ready meals that come in plastic trays and a different kind of plastic on the top? Our whole way of life and thinking about food (no time to cook properly – and for many people cheapness has to be the only consideration) – contribute to the destruction of the planet and ultimately of ourselves.

  12. I know this is nothing to do with Riverford, but I’m dismayed to see what looks like hay bales wrapped in plastic in a farmers field. Surely it doesn’t have to be like this.

    • Hay wrapped in plastic, also sometimes known as haylage when it has fermented a little, is very common. I wish there was a good alternative. However in order to store it outside when there is no barn facility and to get a good crop in uncertain weather ( hay needs good sun and dry weather to dry) it is common practice to use plastic. I really hate I amount I am putting in my recycle bin every week. The plastic from the larger bales you mention can sometimes be recycled and large organisations such as agricultural schools do often do this. It is a problem, as is the string which holds the hay together, but at the moment I can’t really see much alternative. For me using wrapped bales is the most efficient and economical way of feeding during the winter, when unwrapped bales very quickly start to deteriorate outside even when covered. I keep looking at all the alternatives all the time but it always comes down to using wrapped bales. Years ago we had dutch barns which were great. Just a small percentage of the hay which was on the outside and the bottom of the stack was lost to weather. These seem to have gone out of favour a bit which is a shame.

  13. Thanks for bags that will compost. I buy them for lining my compost bin and it will be nice to save money and use yours for my veg peelings.

    • Great idea Ginny! Reusing and then composting them is fantastic, lots of customers use the brown cardboard tray s tomatoes come in for growing their seedlings in too.

  14. I have just stopped buying laundry and washing up liquid in plastic bottles after hearing that so much of what we carefully segregate and the council collect was nevertheless ending up in landfill. The replacement is from Splosh who provide an ‘eternal’ bottle and concentrate refill pouches. They take the refill pouches back for recycling. Vast improvement and good for the environment climate-wise too as less trucking of water hidden in products sold ready-to-use[ie diluted].
    Totally agree about fracking, please everybody wake up and start making a fuss about this. If fracking pollutes the water resources it will affect everyone in the country one way or another not just those living above the tunnelling and underground explosions and toxic gas releases.
    So let’s knock the bottom out of the plastics market!

  15. Enjoyed reading the threads after Guys comments and news . I agree wholeheartedly but think that collective action is necessary to force this incompetent government into action re climate change and other environmental issues . The plastic issue is important and we all need to do as much as we can , but is a smoke screen for deeper environmental concerns as Brexit and the desire to remain is crucial but is a smoke screen for the deeper impacts of austerity on the the UK and broader society . Dare I say we need to get rid of the incompetent crew in Westminster if we are to work towards people and preserving the planet we inhabit are put before profit and the corporate machine . Guys comments re local authorities and recycling are spot on but we need to be bold about naming and shaming the root causes . Austerity politics , myopic profit driven business models and corporate greed are to name just a few . Add to that a reduction of 40% funding to Local authorities and a salami slicing services and it becomes clear what we need to do or at least begin to address.

  16. I’ve been saying this to government and local government for ages. We need one system for recycling. To the highest standard not the basics. We need to be more sustainable. Great news on the plastic front.

    Thank you for keeping us informed.

  17. I do understand that this is a tricky situation – has the packaging been changed already? – I did think some of the greens I received recently were a bit tired and dehydrated…

    and I so much appreciate all your efforts and the fine quality of vegetables and fruit you provide all over the country.

    • Thank you Cait its great to hear that you are enjoying the veg! The salad packaging has not changed yet and I am sorry to hear the greens were wilted – please contact customer services on 01803 227227 who will be happy to help.

  18. Well Done. This is an awful lot more than supermarkets I’m sure.

  19. Hi, I am concerned that any plastic in compost is harmful to the creatures in the soil abd I think we need solutions that totally do away with plastics. i don’t think we want plastic in our soil. Microplastics in soilis as harmful as microplastics in the sea.
    60 years or so ago we managed perfectly well without it. We now have technology we didn’t have then wereby we can manufacture packaging and cups etc. out of corn and other plants that will biodegrade without any harm to our earth. I feel strongly that this is the direection we need to be going in!

    • I completely agree with you here. Both points well said: we managed before – 60 years ago; and now we have technology to devise new environmentally-friendly solutions. Both very positive points.

  20. Well done Guy,Brilliant!! Why don’t the supermarkets simply follow your lead?….Get on with it Mr Gove! Only plastic bottles are taken,with out lids/ tops where I live which is SO pathetic. I’m going back to bars of soap saving a few plastic bottles of hand wash,body wash etc…every little helps!!

  21. I noticed Gwyneth’s mention of corn packaging above. An artmaterials supplier I use uses corn chips to avoid damaging goods. Are they usable in another shape for packaging? I tried them in my composter and haven’t seen any worms since then…perhaps worms just don’t like the hot weather, or maybe corn chips are not worm-friendly? Also I discovered that they dissolve in water…corn chips, not worms. Are they a possibility?

  22. What I struggle most to understand is why goods with a very short shelf life, such as strawberries, need to be sold in such long-lasting, often non-recyclable, packaging.

  23. Glad to see you are making serious efforts to reduce plastic packaging, Guy, as is only befitting a company that grows food for ethical and environmental reasons.
    Being home compostable though, I don’t think is a complete answer. I assume that composting it just breaks it down into tiny particles more quickly than normal plastic packaging would, rather than completely biodegrading. Correct me if I am wrong. And it is the tiny particles that end up being washed into the water table or into river and streams and on into the sea, that are killing the tiny creatures that eat them, thinking they are food. This in turn become toxic food for the larger creatures that feed on those and on and on up the food chain.
    There are masses of vegetable origin plastic alternatives these days that could be used, I am sure, and although we are all paying a premium (over supermarket organic prices) to have fresh organic food delivered, we are all in it for ethical, as well as health reasons and a few extra pence on each item will not be too much of a put off. As more people use the alternatives, they will become cheaper.
    Thinking about it, the alternatives may not also be organic, though. How far do you go to try to make the world a better place?

  24. I find it very frustrating that so much of the plastic packaging I bring home says that it is not currently recyclable.

  25. I read your article on packaging, and what you’re doing is impressive. And I can’t agree more about the need for coherent leadership and policies from government – that’s essential for any serious change.

    And one other area to raise: how about looking at your delivery system, and what could be done to reduce the mileage driven by your vans? There are cycle delivery companies springing up in all sorts of places eg pedalandpost.co.uk/ in Oxford.

    Could your ‘last mile’ deliveries in large towns be done by bike delivery instead of by van?

  26. Our box arrived today and I read your article. Well done on both points. It is interesting that most of the comments you have received focus on plastic, whereas you yourself say, correctly I believe, that anthropogenic climate change is the biggest threat our planet faces (i.e. bigger even than the problem of recycling or disposing of plastic). Perhaps people feel less able to influence that. But they can, and must. One way is to support campaigns by organisations like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and 38 Degrees. We must keep the pressure on politicians like Mr Gove. We have the 2008 Climate Change Act. We must ensure that this and future governments honour it, conform to it and do not try to slide round it or, worse, change or repeal it. And we need people like you to keep making the point about its importance, so well done again!

    • I very much agree with Richard. But plastic is still a big issue, especially for sea life. I spoke with a man from one of the campaigning groups who had a stall in Brighton a few weeks ago – I can’t remember the name of the organisation he represented, but he was serious and scientific. He said that there are in the world five “islands” of plastic junk, each one the size of France! I said, why can’t they fish it out? He asked, where would they put it? I said, down redundant coal mines, but he didn’t think that was possible… A v depressing conversation. Those islands are on top of the microbeads that are getting into fishes’ cells and guts….

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