So what a delight to start a new year with the environment so high up on everyone’s agenda. Whatever you thought of the Prime Minister’s speech on the 25 year Environmental Plan, the fact that she felt the need to make it, means that the Government think there’s an appetite for matters environmental at the moment, which is good news indeed. The Attenborough factor has undoubtedly to be thanked for suddenly popping into the public consciousness through Blue Planet, but that’s fine – he’s a legend. However, we think that in order to tackle the problem, we need to have a very long hard look at how we got to where we are in the first place.
The truth is, today’s society is addicted to convenience. This is a trend which many may be surprised to learn really started post-war with the technological revolution introducing new production techniques including mass production, new ways of processing and packaging food, and the introduction of the first truly convenience products – instant blancmange mix was every 1950s housewife’s ‘go to’ pud. Supermarkets also started to become the norm, and these have of course now grown to be the hyper-behemoths that we use today with a gargantuan array of products. More women started to work and were looking for quicker ways to feed their families, and gadgets became more sophisticated.
And progress is good right? Well not always it seems. Because the impact on our environment of many of these innovations has been extraordinary. And whether you are worried about the planet or not, you have to be concerned when you realise how much money goes into processing and disposing of the massive amount of waste that we now produce. Of course that money could potentially be spent on other essential services – and goodness knows we could do with that.
With all of this progress has come an extraordinary amount of pressure on everyone to achieve more, to achieve it faster and to strive for perfection in so many ways. Our children must do more, eat better and be more emotionally nurtured than has ever been expected before. With so much for modern families to worry about, some of the basic philosophies of life get missed, and with so little time, we can’t always do things the way we want to and we embrace the world of convenience.
I was always brought up not to waste anything – my mother was a war baby and that message was absolutely clear. And without a doubt there is an appetite out there for all things ‘vintage’, with the ‘make do and mend’ era as one many of us aspire to. The reality though, is that we are just too busy to adopt that ethos in our every day lives.
Schools do their bit to educate the next generation in terms of how to live their lives more resourcefully. But it is the post-war generation that need to sort their act out. We are the ones who are letting the side down because to many of us recycling is a new concept unheard of when we were young. We needn’t beat ourselves up about it – it’s human nature to go for the easy option. But that doesn’t let us off the hook, because we have to be setting an example if things are to change.
The truth is that in order for Theresa May to achieve her goals it is not going to be easy. Like it or not, and despite her ambitions to be a leading nation in terms of environment, the UK is way behind many other European nations in terms of accessibility and the mindset and culture to achieve it.
To be successful, the key has to be to take a very long hard look at consumer behaviour and psychology and the barriers that currently exist. It would be a mistake to rush into implementing a headline grabbing, people pleasing scheme that may or may not fail.
The success of the plastic bag charge showed that when you get it right, it is massively effective – but it’s not always easy to find the trigger. Accessibility has to be one of the main factors in driving success. If there were coffee cup recycling points in town centres, there is no doubt that more coffee cups would be recycled. If re-usable items were cheaper, more accessible, more reliable and more practical, we would use them more often. The Mayor of London has pinpointed accessibility to free drinking water as a priority and that seems like a sensible solution too.
Communication and education is the other major key. If we knew exactly what could go in which recycling bin at home, well then wouldn’t more of us actually do it. And if we were rewarded for our efforts rather than penalised when we make a mistake with a ‘naughty naughty’ sticker on our bins, wouldn’t we engage more with the process!
The bottle deposit scheme mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech may or may not be a solution to that particular issue – but in our view it is right that it is tested and researched first because goodness knows human behaviour is hard to predict.
Innovation in re-usable products also has to be key, and not just by enthusiastic entrepreneurs who fund their own research and production through crowdfunding, but through investment by bigger companies, preferably the ones that caused the problems in the first place. Yes, we are looking at you Coca Cola, Apple and Starbucks! You owe the planet and you owe it big! It shouldn’t all be down to Government and ultimately tax payer.
Of course, reducing use in the first place is the fundamental goal, but again is a mandate to supermarkets to provide a ‘plastic free’ aisle really the way to do it? I never buy any fresh produce wrapped in plastic anyway – it’s not compulsory! There are plenty available loose!
One final thing that concerns us about what was said by Theresa May this week is that we are going to alienate busy working families by painting a picture of a ‘green’ nation nirvana with Surrey housewives skipping though organic fields with perfect children! And we are simply delighted that Theresa May has found the time to erect a bat box in her garden, but when the ordinary working family is faced with the price differential between organic and non-organic in a supermarket, it is going to be hard to persuade them that planet friendly is best!
For us it is totally about resourcefulness. We have never had a ‘tree hugging’ agenda but know that a bi-product of being ‘resourceful’ and wasting less, is that we are less of a strain on the planet. And when you start to look at the figures for what processing and disposing of waste costs, then it really does become a no brainer! Land Fill Tax is a total waste of tax payers’ money and is totally avoidable, but you know what, not a lot of people know that!!!!