Looking into the pots...
For starters let’s have some horribly shocking statistics:
- Today we create 300 million tonnes of plastic; which is roughly the weight of the entire human population. Only 9% was recycled*.
- The UK generate more plastic waste per person than any other country bar the US**
- We dump our waste on other countries who do not have robust recycling capability.
If you haven’t watched the shocking Greenpeace video of dumping rubbish at Downing Street you should - it’s heart-breaking and fascinating at the same time.
As an organic company it would be strange if we didn’t care about the environment. As a keen scuba-diver it would be even stranger if I didn’t care about the state of the oceans, and as a mum I’m keenly aware of what we’re passing down to the next generation. We all know that plastic usage, and particularly single usage plastics, is a huge problem (unless you’ve had your head in a bucket for the last 10 years!). We can all to do something about it, in all areas of our life, big or small.
We are an ethical company, we work hard to ensure that our ingredients and resources are sourced in the right way, we jump through hoops to retain our organic badge, we reduce waste, we re-use and we support sustainable farming. So how do we balance that with using plastic pots?
Since I started working here 3 years ago I have watched the conversation grow nationally about plastics and I talk to my colleagues and customers about it often - everyone wants to talk about it - however, talking just isn’t enough, so I want to highlight what we’re doing here at Rod and Ben’s, our aims and how we’re hoping to move into a plastic free future.
Firstly, look at the UK Plastic Pact vision:
The UK Plastics Pact brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle the scourge of plastic waste. We are creating a circular economy for plastics, capturing their value by keeping them in the economy and out of the natural environment.
They have 3 clear actions: In a new plastics economy, plastic never becomes waste or pollution. Three actions are required to achieve this vision and create a circular economy for plastic. Eliminate all problematic and unnecessary plastic items. Innovate to ensure that the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Circulate all the plastic items we use to keep them in the economy and out of the environment.
I have applied this to our business. Do we do all we can to eliminate, innovate and circulate? We have moved in the right direction and will continue on our journey. We are looking at alternative delivery options, more natural packaging and less landfill, including cardboard and plant-based solutions.
- By moving to wholesalers, we reduce distribution miles, that means less vehicles on the road, we also do larger combined deliveries instead of lots of smaller ones.
- We buy organic approved cleaning products.
- We question all new suppliers on their plastic policy and look for alternatives for safe holding of deliveries.
- All our pots are made from recyclable plastic, which is widely recycled at most curb sides.
- We encourage our customers to always recycle but have no way of knowing if they do.
A few years ago, we launched the 101 pot ideas, to ask people to think of ways to re-use our pots. The local primary schools were amazing and as expected the children used their imagination and we some great ideas and creations made. We all re-use the pots as pen holders, storage and Tim is building a mini green house. There are lots of ways to repurpose.
I am delighted that all our plastic is recyclable, but the next stage is to find an alternative, but it’s not a simple case of swapping to another product. To make our lovely soups and dips we have to pot them at a high temperature (just below boiling point) and then chill them very quickly. They are then safe to eat for a longer shelf life. This is not possible with simple vegware or other composable products. There are other alternatives we’ve looked at:
- glass is too bulky, difficult to transport, easy to break and resource heavy to make
- cartons are very often not kerb-side recyclable and the production of the soup would need to alter dramatically, not the soup we know and love!
- woven plastic pouches look great, but in reality, the availability of curb side recycling is not as wide as the plastic pots.
- pot refill solutions for a small business is not viable, to return the pot, clean and reuse would be more resource heavy than new!
It is important to keep in mind that plastic is a unique material with many benefits: it’s cheap, versatile, lightweight, and resistant. This makes it a valuable material for many functions. It can also provide environmental benefits: it plays a critical role in maintaining food quality, safety and reducing food waste. The trade-offs between plastics and substitutes (or complete bans) are therefore complex and could create negative knock-on impacts on the environment.
So, we continue our innovation by reviewing, sampling, testing and evaluating, we keep an eye out as to what is happening around the world and speak regularly to packaging experts.
I am really proud of our little company. We use Riverford Organics wonky potatoes to give texture and taste to our soups. This means we are basically using a bi-product to make a new product. There is much less plastic this way – no packaging - and we are not buying in a new product when there’s a good alternative. This small but significant thing not only makes us stand out from others but also makes me personally happy. Our values are about continuing to look at ways to reduce our footprint but still continue to be savvy with our recipes and challenge ourselves to do more.
We use FSC boxes and cardboard and ensure that we print on recycled paper... all the little things happen. And because we are already organic, we support the sustainable farming system. All heading in very much the right direction.
What’s next? Reduction and hopefully a new potting solution. The benefit of us being a small business is our ability to change, make decisions and innovate quickly, but a big change, such as a purchase of a new piece of machinery - which a larger business could absorb - is a challenge for us.
We always welcome ideas from our customers, so do share any solutions for packing or business ideas! In the meantime, in recognition of #plasticfreejuly, I ask you to look for alternatives in your home too:
- Refills are perfect.
- Recycle everything properly.
- Use alternatives or use things again!
- Buy our soups and re-use the pots for great food storage.
- And challenge yourself to make sure you are doing everything you can.
Lastly, I wanted to share some fascinating reading on the Ellen Macarthur website - do check it out.
Image - thanks to Marc Newberry