The beauty of having a column that sits at the end of the month is that it provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the highlights of the weeks that have passed, the news stories and the events that have created milestones in the fight against waste.
March has been a very busy month and one of my recent highlights was spending ten minutes with Jeremy Irons recording a personal message for a Zero Waste conference that’s taking place in Paris this summer. Watching him deliver that message to camera was totally awesome – providing a much-needed reminder that to become a global Zero Waste society we need to change our patterns of consumption and production. Reflecting back, this has been very much the theme of March.
At the beginning of the month I spoke at the Resource Event, the circular economy conference that’s held annually London. The topic was collaborative consumption, or put simply, how apps and community initiatives are changing the way we buy and how we own things - sharing cars, finding new ways to make things last longer and creating tool libraries in our local communities.
Whilst researching examples for my presentation, I stumbled across the Edinburgh Tool Library. I love how they don’t just hire tools out but how they provide a social space and tutorials, too. Given that a drill gets used for only an estimated 13 minutes in its lifetime, I can’t help but think that a shared tool library in every town around the UK would be a great idea for cutting down on consumption as well as increasing skill-sharing and people’s confidence.
Other welcome news has been last week’s launch of the Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary agreement signed by some of the UK’s biggest food companies to reduce food and drink waste by 20% over the next 10 years. When you’re working hard to reduce your waste at home, it’s good to know that others are working to reduce waste across the supply chain. So I’m delighted to support WRAP’s efforts to bring together everyone involved in the food chain, from farmers to food manufacturers, retailers and the hospitality sector in the bid to reduce waste in their business processes. However, I hope that 20% is just the starting point. If we begin at 20%, hopefully innovation, determination and new expectations will drive achievement up to 30% or even higher.
And have you heard that chef and anti-waste campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been stirring things up with coffee cups? His latest War on Waste campaign highlights that 2.5 billion disposable paper cups are thrown away each year in the UK. Almost 5,000 per minute and fewer than 1% of these are recycled. Most cups are difficult to recycle at the paper mills due to a polyethylene layer. Attempting to reduce its own paper cup waste, Starbucks has since announced that they are going to trial a 50p discount for everyone who chooses to have their drink served in their own reusable cup. Reported last week in the Independent, the two-month trial will start in April and it is anticipated that other big brand coffee chains will follow suit.
I can’t help wondering what the impact would be if a culture of reusable cups developed across a town like Bury St Edmunds. Not just in coffee shops or at street kiosks but at leisure outlets, in offices and at public events.
The impact at public events could be huge. A great example is how The Hay Festival in Wales has partnered with a company called Keep Cup to make reusable coffee cups part of its festival culture. Suffolk’s own Latitude festival has been going for much longer with its reusable beer cup deposit scheme. We may not have such large events locally but the promotion of reusable cups could still bring great results to reduce waste and litter as well as the cost of cleaning it up.
The St Edmund Cup anyone? I think I’d use that with pride. Wouldn’t you?