War on Waste

Waste is not exactly a glamorous topic. No one really likes to think about it:
the material resources, the electricity, or the water that are involved in
getting a product into our hands, or what happens with that product once we’re
done with it. All of that is typically out
of sight, out of mind.

Which is why I am thrilled that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
is tackling the subject and putting it squarely on prime time television and on
the front of newspapers. His original
two-part War on Waste series seems to have been successful in sparking a
conversation about waste, and encouraging both supermarkets and consumers to reconsider
“wonky veg”. How could it not with the
images of perfectly edible food being ploughed under or binned?

His next target has been several leading UK coffee chains
and dispelling the myth that coffee cups are recyclable. When viewed purely as a single-use waste
product, the numbers that are bandied around regarding coffee cups are truly
staggering. 2.5 billion cups a
year. 5000 binned each minute. Only 2 specialty recycling plants
that can handle this type of waste. Oh,
and it has to be virgin, i.e. new, non-recycled, paper that is used to make
these cups.

This is bad enough, but when watching the show recently what
really shocked me was how tone deaf Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero were.  When someone from the BBC says that they
would like to do an interview, you say “yes”.
No ifs, ands, buts, or noes.  Just
“Yes”.  

Why? Because
otherwise it looks like the corporation is hiding something. Or hunkering down and hoping it all blows
over. It’s true that the 24-hour news
cycle means that attention spans are short, and perhaps this is on their mind—if
they just lay low, the issue will go away and there is no need to change the
status quo. But with social media and an
increasingly active consumer base, the time for silence as a corporate strategy
is long past.

Instead, wouldn’t it be better if companies would lead?  Not just greenwash their business with the veneer
of sustainability, but genuinely do things that help to improve the environment
and the communities in which they’re based.
If they would choose to do the
right thing, rather than be forced by the threat of bad publicity?  

In this particular situation, there is so much that could be
done.  Yes, developing genuinely recyclable
cups is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t help combat litter. After all, recyclable does not equal
instantly biodegradable. Instead, there
is a very simple solution: encourage people to bring their own cup. Make it a norm that you bring your travel mug
with you on your morning commute and get a discount on your cuppa when you
refill it. Positive reinforcement like
this can go a long way to starting new habits.

Please contact me if you would like to get involved in our
litter prevention efforts in Chippenham or if there is interest in starting a
Chippenham #wastenot group, either under the umbrella of Off the Ground or as a
separate organisation.  Whether it’s mountains
of coffee cups, fields of wonky veg, or rubbish-strewn communities, we all have
the power to raise our voices, get our hands dirty, and make a change for the
better.

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