reduce, re-use, recycle

I read today that Tesco have decided to stop using degradable plastic bags because they are bad for the environment. This accords with our research four years ago and I only wonder why it has taken Tesco so long to reach this conclusion, or rather to act on it. The same argument applies to biodiesels (excepting those made from waste veg oil) and most starch-based plastics. Any IT-literate science graduate could ascertain within a week that all three are usually bad for the environment.

We published our finding, which challenged public perception, on www.riverfordenvironment.co.uk. In four years no one has challenged it. Admittedly, even the summary is pretty nerdy, but you need detail on these issues. In fact no one seemed to be particularly interested, least of all the people selling the plastics and companies like Tesco. Green wash myths build brands more easily than the slog of genuine worthwhile change.

Business and government would like us to believe that the market will deliver solutions to environmental and even social problems; that carbon trading will make energy efficiency attractive, that consumer choice will force retailers to buy locally and to reduce packaging, salt and additives in food. This allows everyone to abdicate responsibility and blame consumers for wrong choices. Given the barrage of green wash and emotive brand claims, only a tiny minority will ever have the information to make informed choices, making it all too easy to fob off the majority with a degradable plastic bag (6 billion a year). To legislate, to tax what is bad and support what is genuinely good, would smack of a sacrilegious interference with the free market.

‘Reduce, re-use, recycle’, in that order, is a good starting point on packaging. We are far from perfect but we have thought through our packaging and continue to review it. Boxes make up 59% of our packaging carbon footprint, even though they make multiple trips, use 98% recycled materials and are 100% recycled at the end of their life. The biggest single thing you can do to help is to return your boxes. We are also happy to take back all our bags to recycle (just leave them in the boxes). Only ours, though, as even one Tesco degradable bag can get a load rejected by the recyclers.

Guy Watson