Sunday Debate: less packaging, less waste

Sunday Debate: less packaging, less waste

Some single-use plastics are going to be banned by 2020. What a great step! What should be next? Let's keep this thing rolling!

In this blog post we explore high street's move to zero-waste, our own packaging dilemmas and things we can all do to consume and waste less.

Plastic packaging, straws, and bottles; plastic toys, cups, and toothbrushes. There's so much plastic out there! And your beautiful dungarees need to be kept safe on their journey to you.

We've ummed and ahhed a lot about our packaging at Lucy & Yak because we just don't want to be a bigger part of the plastic nightmare than we can help. But's it's really complicated. We thought about paper bags, but there are big problems there too – carbon footprint, CO2 release, and durability made us think that wasn't the best option. We've gone for biodegradable poly bags and reused sari bags which tick quite a few boxes but we're always looking to improve in every way we can.

          

The curse of consumerism

Of course, right at the heart of the issue of the use and abuse of plastics is the consumerist culture we live in. The social questions about the capitalist system take whole books to examine so I'll leave it hanging, except to say within the system we have, it's imperative we buy better, and buy less. The price-tag on those stunning hemp dungarees reflects the care and cost of making them, but they will last for years.

A mountain of food waste

In our recent online debate, you had loads of ideas about what should go next from the sea of plastics that surround us. It's always important to examine the question from every angle though. We're all pretty fed up about the mounds of packaging that our fruit and veg come in. Especially when a lot of fruit and veg come in their own specially grown wrapper. There are a few factors with this though; researchers have found that an unwrapped cucumber lasts for 3 days. One wrapped in plastic lasts for 14 days. That makes it sound like maybe wrapped is better. But then this fuels another big problem: the way we shop. We think we buy enough to last a week, but actually, we've got enough food to last two. That's ok, it'll last 14 days when wrapped in plastic. Except that then it sits at the back of the fridge for a month. A lot of the food we throw away gets put in the bin still in its plastic wrapping. So although the wrapping does a good job of protecting the food actually a lot of time all we do with that is to let it sit longer before we throw it away.

And there's no getting away from it, the amount of packaging is often absolutely ridiculous! Take an Easter egg: a cardboard box, with a plastic inner, then a foil wrapping and inside the egg more plastic wrapped sweets. Crazy! It's so obvious this is unsustainable and utterly wasteful but each year Easter rolls around and out comes this molehill of eggs and mountain of rubbish.

Zero-waste moves into the mainstream

But things are moving in the right direction. It's been really exciting to see in the news that supermarkets are now experimenting with different ways of delivering goods. Waitrose is trialing a scheme in which you can take a container or hire one, for dry goods like pasta and also for some fruit and veg. It's great to see high street embracing zero waste, this now builds up on  zero-waste stores popping up all over the country for a while now.

We're also supporting this idea with our zero-waste range and it's great to think that small businesses said “There's a better way”, and now supermarkets and government are thinking, “yeah, you're right!”. Just goes to show how a bit of pressure from the people and some innovative thinking can get things moving in the right direction.

More innovative thinking is what we need here! If we can change our shopping habits and avoid stocking up and then throwing away, there would be less food waste and a reduced need for packaging. As I said, it's complicated though and needs a lot of thought. For many with disabilities, there are plastic products that are not just necessary; they can be life-saving. As an example, if a person has involuntary muscle spasms and they are using a steel straw, there's a high risk of losing teeth when a spasm causes them to bite down. There are many other ways in which certain medical conditions can mean some plastic items are essential. There should be room for that too; a big part of the problem with plastics is the scale of the issue. So much unnecessary plastics are used that the impact is enormous, whereas if plastics were used only when really necessary it wouldn't be anything like the same problem.

A fishy issue

We've just got so entrenched in this consumerist culture. From the way we shop to the way our food is produced. In fact, the biggest plastic polluter is the fishing industry. 46% of plastic waste in the ocean comes from discarded fishing nets. Part of the problem is that often fisheries use trawler nets which catch sea creatures indiscriminately. Then the nets get dumped and they just keep on killing. Pole line fishing is a much more sustainable method, but it'll make your fish and chips cost more, and fish stocks worldwide are so depleted that there's a strong argument for avoiding seafood altogether.

Instead of plastic toys... 

A personal bug-bear for me is the mound of plastic toys that are available for our children. It's so ubiquitous that it can be difficult to discourage family and friends from adding to the pile already building up in the toy box. There are some good alternatives though; Babipur sells some lovely wooden toys but my favourite gift choice for my children is an experience. For close family, the prospect of a special trip or crafting day with Granny is more precious than any plastic truck. And for others, a contribution to a special day out, either financial or by coming along too, isn't as fun to unwrap (oh and there's an issue – wrapping paper) but it's a lot more fun for the whole family to enjoy together. 

Change from the top

It's not just thinking differently that's important; it's also important to get governments investing in new technology, recycling, and alternatives to plastic. Biodegradable polymers seem like a really positive way forward, but there are lots of options. Scientists just need the funding to get their ideas onto the market.

The single-use plastics ban is a fantastic step forward and it can encourage us to look more closely and change how we think about consuming and waste. And the most important thing about ideas is that we share them. So keep telling us how to improve, how to be more sustainable and more ethical. Keep in touch through our Instagram and sign up to our mailing list so you can hear our ideas and help us get better.