Greenwash Monsters?

16th January 2014 by

I’m not quite sure why the title got ‘monsters’ in it – it was the first thing that popped into my head, and it stuck. Monsters aside, I read some things about supermarket waste practices today and I thought I’d share some thoughts…

So what’s been happening? One recent announcement is that Co-op supermarket are replacing their plastic carrier bags with compostable ones. Well, that’s a great start for reducing plastic in landfills – but only if you don’t look at what goes inside the shiny new compostable carrier bag. I very rarely go into supermarkets – I’m opposed to them for a variety of ethical reasons (this is not the place to get into a debate about all things supermarket related – you can have a look at www.tescopoly.org for more info). Anyway, one of the problems with supermarkets is that they end up with a monopoly and sometimes there are no alternatives. Recently I was in a small town, needing food and there was nothing else available. I tried to buy vegetables, but everything was plastered in plastic – the only loose vegetables I saw were some anemic-looking out-of-season tomatoes – tasty! A lot of the plastic was the thin sort which most councils don’t recycle either. This is only the waste that we see and deal with as customers. How much is hidden by press-releases about small changes? Some tiny percentage of supermarket waste is now compostable – but how much is this worth, when a far higher volume of waste inside the carrier bag still gets sent to landfill/sea/other countries?

A number of other UK supermarkets have apparently made a partnership with Coca-Cola encouraging customers to pledge to recycle. The argument here is sort of the same, brands and supermarkets shift responsibility to you, the consumer, instead of looking at how they package items and taking responsibility. Apparently last year 37,000 people spun this wheel and pledged to recycle. 37,000 more people recycling may be a good thing – but I’ve got some questions.

First, why would anyone want to spin a wheel on a website to see which material they should pledge to recycle? Maybe I’m missing something, but I think there are more fun things to do. I’ve spun it three times now, and it’s not getting more interesting. Wheel-spinning hasn’t cropped up in much I’ve read about behaviour change either.

Second, if you make a pledge, you get yourself some free Coca-Cola merch in the form of a fridge magnet. What’s the idea? You go to the fridge, think “oh Coca-Cola is so delicious”, and then “I don’t even need to recycle the bottle once I’m done because I only pledged to recycle metal…”

Third, why does it only encourage you to recycle one set of materials, when a lot of councils collect them all together?

Fourth, there’s a link to find out more about how they recycle, but it doesn’t work. (That was even less of a question than the other points – I’d better hope Gove isn’t reading this!)

Fifth, what do I do with all the things I’ve bought I can’t recycle? Why is there so much packaging in the first place and why are you making it my fault? If supermarkets and other companies didn’t put so much packaging on everything, it wouldn’t be there to go to landfill, recycle, repurpose, or for me to complain about!

And finally, my question to all of you. Is it good, or is it greenwash? Are these businesses making real change, or are they hiding unsustainable business practice behind the celebration of minor changes and shifting responsibility to the consumer?

If you think shops should stop creating waste, perhaps you could take your custom elsewhere (if you’re still fortunate enough to have that option), or go and tell them what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's all a bit fishy round here

1st March 2011 by

I’ve lived in the UK for over 3 years now and I gotta say – I’m a huge fan of a good plate o’ fish and chips. That said, the whole experience is making me squirm as I learn more about the issues around sustainable fish. It seems to be all the rage with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s program on Channel 4 “Hugh’s Fish Fight” and his personal campaign, Greenpeace and WWF getting in on it.  The City of London has even been challenged to become the first ever Sustainable Fish City by an alliance of  not-for-profit organisations already working on sustainable seafood issues.  But it’s obvious that the fish fight campaign is huge and is calling attention to a massive problem.

After signing up for the campaigns, I wondered what more I could do in my every day life:

1. I will do my absolute best to only purchase and consume sustainable fish for example, products which are MSC certified.

2. Be on top of what fish to eat and what to avoid.

3. Keep my ears and eyes open to local supermarkets and how they fare in the sustainable fish fight.

4. Speak to my local fish and chip shop and see if they would be willing to change their policies.

It feels like this is only the beginning to a long fight but there seems to be some movement from all the pressure.

So keep on fighting and join the fish fight!

Bin your bin

3rd May 2009 by

It’s the rubbish challenge – we challenge you to do away with your bin and see if you can go a month (or more) without producing any rubbish.

That means trying your very very best not to consume anything that can’t be reused, recycled or composted. What’s more, you’ve got to reuse, recycle or compost all those things, even if it means carting round old apples cores until you find a compost bin.

It’s not easy being rubbish free, so we’d like you to share with us your trials, tribulations and tactical ways of avoiding rubbish. We will, in turn, share it with the world via our website. So send us your stories, photos and tips to info@otesha.org.uk .

We tried to go rubbish free last year, with some success (we were rubbish-almost-negligable but not quite rubbish free). Biscuits were our downfall, so if anyone knows where we can get packaging-free biscuits we really want to know. Recipes for homemade biscuits are also valuable information.

Bonus points if you rope your whole household into it with you. Bin the bin! Bin the bin! Bin the bin!

And here’s the results-

Everyone we spoke to managed to signifcantly reduce their rubbish, but the scourge of plastic packaging could not be completely side-stepped.

The things that were hard to get rubbish free (that we couldn’t quite give up):

  • Cheeeeeeeeese
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Camping equipment ordered online arrived packed to the hilt

Ways we found around creating rubbish:

  • taking our own plates and tupperware containers to the takeaway
  • seeking out unpackaged vegetables at the shops
  • baking biscuits and brownies instead of buying packaged ones
  • growing our own salad
  • foraging for free food

Jo’s joys of being rubbish-less:

The bin hasn’t entirely been binned but there have been a few long term changes:

  • Being the cheese addict that I am, I now only buy cheese from a cheese counter wrapped in paper or even better popped straight into my clean lunchbox.
  • I’ve discovered a great green grocers which sells fruit and veg bare and naked – including lovely herbs. No more supermarket fruit and veg for me.
  • If I eat from the work canteen I take my plate and cutlery and wash up afterwards – no more styrofoam containers and disposable plastic cutlery.
  • Camping was a little difficult, as we didn’t have a fridge, so we need to think about that a bit more before the next trip…
  • Pasta/rice – always wrapped in plastic…. I think I need to start shopping here at Unpackaged, a shop in North London which does what it says on the tin.
  • I’ve been doing some foraging this year, which I’ve never really got into before. We’ve eaten lots of greens (highlight being nettle paneer) and have enjoyed homemade elderflower cordial.

Eluned ranted a bit about her rubbish:

On the whole, I did fairly well at reducing my rubbish – but I was pretty rubbish (oh dear…) at binning my bin altogether.

Some things which helped:

  • Buying veg from a farmer’s market and getting a weekly veg box saved packaging – and often with veg boxes any packaging there is can be returned.
  • Buying meat from the butcher’s and taking a tupperware to carry it home in.
  • Guerilla composting (i.e. creating some neat little holes in the soil of London town, filling with veg scraps and covering over again).
  • Buying less, growing more and getting creative!

As I started turning more to these options, I found that week on week my bin got emptier and emptier.

However, the thing that really got me was that darned crinkly plastic!! If you shop in the supermarket, or buy anything brand new, this horrible crackly, clear un-recyclable rubbish wraps virtually everything. So surely if you avoid supermarkets and only buy second-hand goods you can do without it, right? But what I found is that even if you stick to local shops, veg boxes and farmer’s markets, and even  if you don’t buy anything non-essential or food-related (as I tried throughout these 4 weeks), its still hard to avoid; rye bread, pasta, nuts, pulses, cheese… it all comes wrapped.

What to do? Some suggestions I’ve heard include re-using the wrapping to make a toy for the cat, some kind of jewellery fashioned from scrumpled up plastic, or a contraption to scare birds off. Ideally though, I think I’d rather do without it full stop. Any other ideas on how to re-use this horrible stuff, or better still avoid it altogether?

Jessie told us:

One thing i did do which was probably the most significant is switch from rice/soya milks on my cereal, to fruit juice … so instead of a new tetrapak every 3 days or so (tons of difficult to recycle waste) i now have a small 500ml glass bottle of fruit juice concentrate to last me at least a month!

Additional tips for waste free periods- mooncups and washable moon pads.

Down at Camelot-the-eco-castle:

Adam, Nic and Kirsty made a planter out of a cereal packet and an old basket they found. They call it “sweet re-using-the-trash-for-green-things”.


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