Wasting away

Thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste.

Greetings, gentle readers. Happy New Year and all that. As I write this, I can see that the bin-men have just arrived in our road. Are we still supposed to call them that these days? Waste-operatives? Waste-disposers? No, that just makes them sound like a kitchen appliance. Bin-men: does what it says on the proverbial I suppose.

I digress. The bin-men are outside, pulling the detritus of the last two weeks from the nine or so houses in my cul-de-sac. So much rubbish. I cursed silently (not that silently) as I was filling my own bin with the cardboard, the wrapping, the paper, but it’s so much more obvious just how much packaging we use when you see nine households’ worth of it being collected.

The Christmas and new year period are, clearly, a time when we tend to get more stuff and that more stuff comes in more packaging, but even in more normal times, there is still too much of it.

Remember way back in pre-pandemic, BC (before Covid) times, there was a groundswell of action to reduce packaging waste, food waste, plastic use and pollution. “Save the Turtles. Single use plastic bags are the devil’s work,” we all cried as we reached for a paper bag in which to carry our apples home from Tesco. Then Covid happened and we all returned to online shopping, drove everywhere when we could because our own cars were deemed ‘safer’ than public transport, and bought gazillions of disposable masks because the reusable ones are always in the wash or the wrong coat pocket.

Now we have the LFT issue. Every day, thousands of people are having to do the cotton-bud-nose-and/or-throat dance and then dispose of the vast amount of single use plastic that each set of 7 tests contains. Much of these kits don’t even count as single use; most of the individual waste bags for the individual tests go straight in the bin anyway.

The issue of packaging waste isn’t just a domestic household one, either. The new packaging tax doesn’t care about Covid, it’s still coming in in April, and it will affect businesses right through the supply chain. But the burden will fall particularly heavily on merchants. I know this is something that many merchants and suppliers are already aware of and are working on; many have already made serious commitments to reducing their waste this year. Merrit & Fryers’ Rachel Fryers was particularly vociferous about the need for action at the NBG Partner and Supplier Event in November, for example. And she’s right. Products need to be packaged well in order to protect them during transport and in storage; no-one wants spoiled products as that just causes even more waste. It’s a tricky line to follow, but it’s an important one and getting it wrong will cost money and add to this tsunami of waste that we seem unable to do anything about at the moment.

I know he’s tortoise, not a turtle, but it makes me smile anyway.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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