We must ditch the pack­ag­ing and stop putting our love of con­ve­nience ahead of the planet’s fu­ture

Irish Daily Mail - - Comment - PHILIP NOLAN WHAT’S YOUR VIEW? Have your say by email­ing let­ters@dai­ly­mail.ie

THE shock al­most knocked me over. I was in Dunnes re­cently and went to pick up some mush­rooms. I love them, and eat them in omelettes or sautéed with tar­ragon and served on brown toast for break­fast, raw in sal­ads at lunchtime, and swim­ming in gar­lic but­ter for din­ner, so I get through quite a lot.

I of­ten feel guilty, though, be­cause like al­most ev­ery other veg­etable avail­able in my lo­cal su­per­mar­ket, they come on plas­tic trays cov­ered in cling film, to­tally need­lessly when they just as eas­ily could be sold loose.

If that’s not pos­si­ble, though, there now is a sec­ond best op­tion. In Dunnes – and here’s why I was so sur­prised – sliced mush­rooms were avail­able, for the first time I can re­mem­ber, on a card­board tray, one that is com­pletely biodegrad­able. Yes, there was cling film on it, but the reduction in plas­tic waste was very wel­come, and no one will be pay­ing for the con­se­quences of my di­etary habits 500 years into the fu­ture.

Also re­cently – and I’m an­noyed I can’t re­call where, be­cause it is worth not­ing – I was served a drink with a pa­per straw, again the first time I’ve seen one in ages, and pos­si­bly decades (for those of you un­der 40, straws al­most al­ways were made of flimsy pa­per that be­came soggy and limp long be­fore you fin­ished your drink – now, it seems they’re re­in­forced with a few lay­ers, but still made to­tally from pa­per).

This week, as part of its Tidy Towns strat­egy, West­port in Co. Mayo an­nounced a scheme to with­draw all plas­tic straws from use in the pop­u­lar tourist town. All the pubs have agreed to use only biodegrad­able straws from June 1, and the hope is that fast-food restau­rants and su­per­mar­kets there will fol­low suit.

This is, hope­fully, a good sign for the fu­ture, and one of many. In the UK, ma­jor su­per­mar­kets and food and drink brands – among them many we also know here, such as Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Coca-Cola, Birds Eye, Danone, Nestlé, Pepsi, Proc­ter & Gam­ble and Unilever – have agreed to elim­i­nate sin­gle-use plas­tic by 2025.

The move is a wide-rang­ing one. Black trays, the ones used for fruit, veg and ready meals, will be phased out, as they can­not be picked out by laser sort­ing sys­tems in re­cy­cling plants and of­ten end up in land­fill, or in­cin­er­ated.

When it comes to buy­ing meat, fish, mari­nades or sal­ads, shop­pers will be en­cour­aged to bring their own re­us­able con­tain­ers. Poly­styrene pizza box lin­ers will be re­placed with card­board. Deteruse, gent and wash­ing-up liq­uid bot­tles will be re­fill­able. Frozen food bags will be re­placed with a new type that are biodegrad­able. Plas­tic bot­tles will in­clude more re­cy­cled ma­te­rial, and a de­posit scheme will be in­tro­duced.

Pub chain Wether­spoons al­ready has in­tro­duced a vol­un­tary ban on plas­tic straws in the UK, along with Prêt-aManger and Costa. Cot­ton buds with plas­tic stems will go, as will those foil pouches for pet food, baby food, cof­fee and fruit juice. Crisp pack­ets, too, will be re­placed with more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly pack­ag­ing.

Best of all, as al­most ex­clu­sively is the case in su­per­mar­kets in France, Spain and Italy, more fruit and veg will be sold loose.

Waste

There are ar­gu­ments against this, as many claim that the plas­tic on the likes of cu­cum­bers ac­tu­ally makes them last longer, but at least food waste is com­postable, where plas­tic is not.

In­deed, re­turn­ing to buy­ing loose fruit and veg­eta­bles would be a god­send for those of us who live alone. In Dublin, I lived across the road from a tra­di­tional green­gro­cer, and wan­dered over to buy what I needed ev­ery day, never throw­ing out any­thing but peel, a seed or a core. Now, if I want an ap­ple, I of­ten have to buy four, and if I want an or­ange I have to buy six. In­evitably, and de­spite my very best in­ten­tions, some end up rot­ting be­fore I get to eat them, so a re­turn to buy­ing only what I need would be very wel­come in­deed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no eco-war­rior, but I grew up in a more aus­tere age and it was in­grained in me that noth­ing should go to waste, so it gen­uinely pains me to have to throw out left­over food. If there’s a le­mon I know I’m not go­ing to I squeeze the juice into an ice cube tray and freeze it, then pop it in spark­ing wa­ter weeks later for an in­stant lemon­ade. If there are three slices of bread past their prime but not yet speckled with mould (or the heels of a sliced pan, which I hate), I chuck them in the food pro­ces­sor, and they come in handy later as the crumb on a pasta bake, or mixed with cream cheese and herbs for stuff­ing, well, mush­rooms ac­tu­ally.

It’s all about be­ing or­gan­ised, and an ex­tra ten min­utes can save you money and elim­i­nate waste, if you just make the ef­fort.

I in­vested years ago in a very ex­pen­sive bean-to-cup cof­fee ma­chine that has re­paid me ten­fold, I’d reckon, so I don’t use those ex­pen­sive foil cap­sules that are dif­fi­cult to re­cy­cle. While Ne­spresso of­fers a ded­i­cated re­cy­cling ser­vice for its cus­tomers, it is only one player in that mar­ket. As many as 20 bil­lion cap­sules a year find their way into land­fill, where they take be­tween 150 and 500 years to fully break down. That clearly is un­sus­tain­able.

Above all, though, I’m ab­so­lutely scrupu­lous about re­cy­cling. I never re­ally was much of an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and, until pre­sented with ir­refutable ev­i­dence, some­thing of a cli­mate change sceptic too, but mov­ing to live a few hun­dred me­tres from the beach was all I needed to wake me up to the threat ad­dressed by this news­pa­per’s Turn The Tide campaign.

In sum­mer, I’m of­ten dis­gusted to find my­self, dur­ing my early morn­ing swim, sur­rounded by rub­bish, and I’m ab­so­lutely ap­palled by the mess peo­ple leave on the beach – and some­times even at my house. I opened the re­cy­cle bin one day to find three used nap­pies, and while I’m glad they didn’t end up in the sea, I’d still rather those who dumped them had just brought them home.

That bin, though, is a sym­bol of ev­ery­thing that’s wrong with the world. It has a ca­pac­ity of 240 litres and I fill it to the brim once a month, even af­ter crush­ing plas­tic bot­tles, milk car­tons and drinks cans, and stand­ing on card­board to flat­ten it. I’m a mid­dle-aged man liv­ing alone – how much un­nec­es­sary waste do fam­i­lies gen­er­ate?

There are small ways we can make changes. The ini­tia­tive by the big UK play­ers is wel­come and surely will spill over here, but until we, as con­sumers, kick up a fuss – as hap­pened a cou­ple of weeks ago when hun­dreds of peo­ple re­moved the pack­ag­ing and left it be­hind in the su­per­mar­ket – then we will con­tinue to de­stroy our oceans, de­stroy the land and, ul­ti­mately, de­stroy the en­tire planet.

And that’s a very high price to pay for con­ve­nience.

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