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The UK Recycling Set Up is contributing to worldwide pollution, not reducing it!

04 June 2019 - Rosemary French OBE

Our High Streets are suffering.  Online shopping is to blame, of course.  But new retailers are not attracted because landlords will not reduce their rents and would rather sit with empty premises growing in value; or they may even convert those lovely quaint shops to residential through Permitted Development Rights, where they can make more money.

However, against all odds, one friend of mine decided to open a plastics free, zero waste shop with the aim of making it easier for the local population to ditch single use plastics.

I have been volunteering at For Earth's Sake and am fascinated by the comments and behaviour of shoppers in this time of ‘Climate Change: The Facts’.  I can see a real willingness of shoppers to reduce single use plastic. I can also understand the significant change in behaviour and shopping habits that will be needed to succeed.  Shoppers need to remember to save their empty glass or plastic bottles and visit the shop to fill them with vinegars, oils, washing up liquid, shampoo, conditioner, everything for cleaning the bathroom and kitchen. Or using paper bags to fill with herbs, spices, pasta, grains, pulses, cereals, or dried fruit. You can even buy a single egg, fill your own milk bottle (only 50p a pint!) or slice a slab of butter and wrap it in paper.  I am old enough to remember my Saturday job in our local grocers where we did all of this.

It will be easier to convert shoppers to fill their own containers because they are far cheaper filled thus. I watched a woman fill her empty washing up liquid bottle and be astonished to discover how much she had saved compared to the cheapest brand she could buy in her supermarket.  After only six weeks the number of repeat shoppers continues to grow as they bring in larger containers to fill.  The feel good factor is evident as is the knowledge of the current climate change debate combined with their frustration of not being helped to make a difference.

It is still so frustrating to note that large retailers have made so little change to their behaviour despite their promises to reduce plastic use. Why am I asked to pay more for loose mushrooms in my supermarket than in a costly black plastic, shrink-wrapped container that I will just throw away? And it will be discarded because councils have nowhere to recycle their collections, having to ship them out of the country. Nowhere, because the nimbies do not want an anaerobic digester nor recycling plant in their backyard. I listened to a recent File on Four on Radio 4 which was talking about how China will no longer accept our recycling waste. Indeed, it is ending up lying in villages in Indonesia poisoning their land and water.  In fact, the way our recycling is set up is contributing to worldwide pollution not reducing it!   

There is a real understanding that we need to change but where is the political leadership? We know we can make it work after the great success of the end of free plastic supermarket bags.

It is uplifting certainly, but very sad, that it takes a woman with absolutely no retail experience to embark on a mission to convert our behaviour. We need more older ‘Gretas’’ like her in our short-sighted political arena.

First published in South East Business May 2019


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