The message about recycling and sustainability could be beginning to take a hold, according to Green View columnist Peter Gudde
I recall an article I wrote saying that tackling a single issue like plastic shopping bags, paper cups or drinking straws doth not a movement make. Modern plastics are so embedded in our way of life that to see the media headlines in 2018 that we are solving the so-called “plastic crisis” appeared to me like tokenism.
To prove me wrong, hopefully, I think that 2019 could see momentum gathering toward something bigger and more widespread. I have said before its more than just single-use plastic packaging that needs to be tackled, although this a totem.
It’s about a changing our approach to stuff; moving away from throw-away fashion, poor energy deals, badly made appliances that break down soon after the warranty runs out and much, much more. What’s known as the circular economy.
The concept of the circular economy has been one for the eco-chatterers like me for many years.
But it’s breaking out of the technical magazines into the wider press in various guises. Basically, our economy is a one-way street – someone makes stuff, we buy it, use it then throw it away. This is done without much thought of the consequence. Instead, the circular economy gets the most out of the resources we use, keeping them in use as long as they have a value. It requires the manufacturer to make things that are designed to last, not single use, able to be repaired, and when it comes to their end-of-life can be taken apart, reused or recycled into other stuff.
This requires a change in mindset across all parts of the economy – whether it’s global tech businesses redesigning their products so that their widgets have a longer life, national house builders delivering far more energy efficient homes, the fashion industry taking a longer-term view of the effect on their suppliers of seasonal collections, or high street shops reducing packaging. And more besides, but I hope you get a flavour.
We all then need to play our part and that is key to taking the step forward to a more circular approach
For this to happen, the customer must be served better, and it needs to be made easy. Recently, my local supermarket changed its approach to loose veggies by replacing polythene bags with paper.
Yet, when I go to the neighbouring store they still stock clear poly bags for your pick-and-go carrots and spuds. Why can’t they both take the same step and make it simpler for us all, to the point that we do not even have to think about taking our own bags or using theirs?
My mate Eco-Tony has been looking into the world of packaging. First, there are loads of labels saying whether this or that can be recycled; then what you can recycle will depend on where you live. Having such a complex approach makes recycling harder for the consumer. And there is no direct incentive to do this for those who may need a nudge to take part.
Tony’s view is that simplicity is key and he’s lobbying for colour coding on the packaging that corresponds to a similarly-coloured recycling bin system wherever you are across the UK. We all then need to play our part and that is key to taking the step forward to a more circular approach. Okay, I can hear you shouting at the paper/screen: “even more bins”.
But this is our problem – we need to take responsibility for our mess. There’s also a business opportunity with jobs in this stuff, if we can put our minds to it and if only we valued the circular approach.
I remain hopeful that 2019 could be the start towards that more resourceful, circular world. To misquote Mr Dylan the times may, at long, long last, be a-changing. Maybe things are not simply happening in isolation. Could something may be growing in public consciousness? Calling it a movement or a trend is overstating it, but certainly there’s a feeling of changed attitudes, if the media coverage is any sort of measure.
-- Find out more about the circular economy at www.ellen macarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy and www.wrap.org.uk/about-us/about/wrap-and-circular-economy
-- Peter Gudde is an energy advisor and environmental researcher