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In search of the naked strawberry

  • Chris Jeavans
  • 2 Aug 08, 03:55 PM GMT

I decided to pick an easy target for my first foray into plastic-free shopping: fruit and veg.

blog_strawberries.jpgShould be very simple, after all, supermarkets sell plenty of fresh produce loose and market stalls are also an option.

But what seemed straightforward at first was more complicated on closer inspection.

Yes, I was picking up loose carrots and popping them into my trolley but the big box which they were displayed in had a layer of plastic on top.

This doesn't break the rules of my experiment - I'm not trying to cut plastic out of my life entirely, just to not add to my personal plastic mountain - but it did make me wonder where one draws the line with packaging.

Dick Searle, head of the UK Packaging Federation is not surprised that I'm scratching my head: "You may give up plastics in terms of what you buy in the stores, what you don't see of course is how they've got to the stores and a considerable amount of packaging is used to get goods into the stores.

"Even if you buy fresh produce, apples which are loose, they have been packed and then unpacked to be sold."

It's no coincidence that Mr Searle has chosen to highlight apples: an environmental "lifecycle analysis" on selected Marks and Spencer apples in 2003 found that loose fruits created more waste up to the point at which they were sold than a four-pack of apples on a biodegradable tray.

This, says the packaging industry, highlights the difficulties for consumers in trying to discern which products have the least environmental impacts.

Green campaigners, however, say it shows why we should buy locally-produced food where possible, so that food does not need to be transported all over the country - in packaging - before arriving in the shops.

But, back to my shopping list. It is still soft fruit season and our household has been getting through strawberries and raspberries by the punnet-load - the plastic punnet-load.

Could I find the berries in their naked state on the supermarket shelves? Nope. And it was the same story with lettuces, celery and cucumbers (although Co-op does sell an au naturel cucumber).

So I tried the market stall around the corner but once again the strawberries and raspberries were encased in plastic.

Now I understand why this might be - soft fruit is by its nature, crushable - but plastic punnets are a relatively recent development so what, I asked the stallholder, Alf, did strawberries used to be packed in?

He thought for a while and said: "Cardboard, and we used to do them loose too, by the scoop, they didn't used to get squashed."

"But they were a luxury in those days," his female colleague added, "you had them once a month, not all the time like now".

"Now she's the strawberry queen," chipped in Alf.

Neither knew where I could find a naked strawberry in a shop, however, but it is my mission to find one.

I may have to visit a pick-your-own farm for the first time since childhood.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I support totally your quest and will watch with interest how well the experiment develops.

  • Comment number 2.

    You highlight an interesting issue about 1st century life! As I was reading your post my initial thoughts were PYO, which you mention at the end.

    The other idea is more radical, and that is to return your empty punnets to the supermarket or better still, take a reusable container with you and empty them into that at the checkout, once your item has been scanned; then hand back the plastic punnets.

    We have a local fruit farm and the man who runs that will take back our punnets for re-use.

    Often, supporting a small, local supplier will yield better results for decreasing packaging - they have to pay for it, so are happy to reuse. Why not try a local farm shop and see how you get on if you can't manage to do a PYO?

  • Comment number 3.

    I am also on the search to reduce, reuse etc and found a vege box from a farm delievered to my door once a week especially helpful. Riverford deliver strawberries (in season) in CARDBOARD. Oh the joy.

  • Comment number 4.

    Oh but don't all special offers in fruit come in plastic wrappers too! It's all supposed to be so that the checkout operator can scan the bar code for the goods through at speed without ever having to know what they are (ever been asked what a swede is at the checkout when you do get a naked one?).

  • Comment number 5.

    You are my heroine. I caqn't wait to see how things work out in the end - after the initial complications.

    I hope to emulate your adventure.

    Someone mentioned Riverford, used to be an avid customer until I was stuick behind a huge Riverford lorry for several tens of miles!

    Most local farm shops sell fruite loose or in cardboard punnets or if plastic it is compostable.

  • Comment number 6.

    Our local farm shop does strawberries in cardboard punnets. Not only is the fruit delicious, but they were grown in the fields very close by, perfect! Good luck on your quest!

  • Comment number 7.

    You used a trolley; they have plastic handles!

  • Comment number 8.

    Whilst trolleys do indeed have plastic handles, this does not break her rules, because she does not keep the trolley and throw it away. Indeed it is reused by other customers. Her rules state: "I'm not trying to cut plastic out of my life entirely, just to not add to my personal plastic mountain."
    Admittedly, however, the number of trolleys available at a supermarket is proportinate to the number of customers who use a trolley, and therefore were she to stop doing so...

  • Comment number 9.

    Yesterday someone asked what you were going to do when "it was your time of the month?" Easy, use a menstrual cup (www.mooncup.co.uk) - they are made of surgical rubber and are designed to be reused. I have been using one for a few months now and I am amazed at how my symptons of PMT and actual period pain had reduced. I wonder if it was anything to do with the chemicals in sanitary protection?

  • Comment number 10.

    Good luck to you!

    Where I live in the US, shops will give you a small cash back rebate for bringing your own bags. We also have an extensive recycling program in my area which helps. Also, do any of your stores use containers that look like plastic but are actually made from some vegetable material that is biodegradable?
    You might ask about that. My Whole Foods Market uses some of this to package things like butter, jams, soft fruits etc. (Don't ever put these containers in the microwave, they melt into a puddle!)

    People have given you many good ideas for getting food in non-plastic packages where you live so I think you will do just fine.

  • Comment number 11.

    Make sure that you check out the source of the strawberries that you buy. Buying loose strawberries that aren't local will be counterproductive - you could end up with a bigger carbon footprint than if you'd purchased plastic wrapped locally grown strawberries. Also, you need to avoid any grown with synthetic fertilisers. Big carbon footprint associated with these.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just noticed Ooteeny's comment about locally grown strawberries in cardboard punnets. Cardboard has about 6 times the energy cost of manufacture compared to plastic, is considerably more bulky to transport and has impacts attached to its degradation which plastic does not have. Lifecycle assessment is a very complex area, and none of this is as straightforward as it seems.

  • Comment number 13.

    I went to my local BIG supermarket today, and whilst they had several types of potatoes in 2.5 and 5 kilo bags, they only had two types that were au naturel.

    I am unsure of the prices being charged - but I do know that they were considerably dearer than at the farm shop we use (all the local's were priced at less than 20p per pound) and they were all choose your own

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm curious to know how you have been brushing your teeth in the mornings - are you using a plastic toothbrush and what about the toothpaste container - is that with a plastic container AND / OR lid.

    BTW you could enjoy a bottle of wine with your DVD - a lot of very good quality Australian wines come with a twist top lid and you could download a DVD from an Internet service to enjoy ... mind you the keyboard is plastic ...

  • Comment number 15.

    #11and#12Adejones

    Your points are quite excellent but her goal is to reduce/discontinue plastic use for one month. Some of the problems you mentioned may be unavoidable at this time. I agree that it is always best to buy local, organically grown fruits and vegetables in season.

  • Comment number 16.

    Who is AdeJones and who does s/he /work for - a packaging company? What rubbish to say that cardboard takes more energy to produce than plastic and 'has impacts associated with its degredation". Yes, like it does biodgrade for a start, and in less than 1,000 years unlike plastic, and it can be composted too, which plastic certainly can't be. If you aren't interested in preserving the planet AdeJones then at least stop spreading misinformation to and about people who are trying o do something. Shame on you.

  • Comment number 17.

    #16greeninthesuburbs

    Where I live paper and cardboard are recycled. I don't know if that takes more energy but at least it is not put in waste disposal.

  • Comment number 18.

    Two suggestions; both involve a bit of lateral thinking. The first is to forget about strawberries - your local patch of waste land (or railway embankment, canal towpath) currently have ripe blackberries in profusion. Make sure you have a pair of gloves and you are wearing jeans (no bare knees). Delicious!

    The other alternative is to leave the packaging at the supermarket checkout (as suggested by the 2nd commentator) - I think this would be OK according to your own rules.

    This was actually suggested by a government minister, Ben Bradshaw, in 2006 and the Guardian journalists tried it out
    . I don't think this ever made it into official government policy, though, and Bradshaw has moved on from Environment into Health.

  • Comment number 19.

    Blackberries! Pure summer bliss and worth a few scratches!

  • Comment number 20.

    I would love if you could find out why the heck every greeting card in the UK seems to now be required to be encased in plastic. As if the cards had to be so protected from smudges that they each require a plastic film - when they're all chucked in the bin within a few days!

  • Comment number 21.

    Oh, and you could check if anyone around you (or waste ground) has any blackberries or gooseberries they want picked. That's how I'm getting my fruit this week!

  • Comment number 22.

    Blackberries aren't ripe here yet (East Pennines, W Yorkshire) but otherwise PYO/fruit farms, totally! We did the PYO in Scotland a few weeks ago, cardboard punnets. But the strawbs were grown on plastic-coated stands in growbags!

  • Comment number 23.

    Why has nobody mentioned the need to protect the fruit? If the supermarkets just had a huge box of strawberries and customers helped themselves then the strawberries would get damaged and a considerable amount would end up being thrown away. Thus wasting all the resources that had gone into growing them and bringing them to the supermarket.

    There is also a limit to the size of box you can fill with strawberries before the ones at the bottom get crushed under the weight of the ones above.

    ... of course you could find novel uses for strawberry slurry ;-)

  • Comment number 24.

    I wish you well with your challenge. However I fear that plastic has become so integral to our way of life that the only way to avoid it completely would involve adopting an ultimately impractical lifestyle.

    That said, I hope that your experiences and the solutions you devise will be an inspiration and an encouragement to those of us who are embarked on a similar journey.

  • Comment number 25.

    "Green campaigners, however, say it shows why we should buy locally-produced food"

    Now that is a bit of a generalisation, to say the least. Plenty of 'green campaigners', or those concerned about the environment, realise that locally produced food is not always best . Putting aside the issue of large subsidies for EU produce and alternative green spends, the main issue is that the carbon emissions from locally produced produce are often higher than those from abroad, even after transport, because of the farming methods used.

    Indeed the issue of emissions (and the use of oil in producing some plastics) is something you have ignored thusfar. Still, I agree, this all makes it far more difficult for the consumer to judge the environmental impacts of what they buy!

  • Comment number 26.

    from wot I recall soft fruit was sold in thin weaved wooden baskets or punnets
    I do feel most folk who want little or no packing have a car you need good packing if you travel by bus and moreso on a wet day I often recall a two mile walk after getting off the bus arriving home with broken eggs, soggy biscuits,and solid block of sugar when the old blue bags didnt keep the rain out from its contents Brown paper carriers were also of little use for potatoes or any other heavy items and the string handles soon gave way.. Three cheers for plastic I still travel by bus,but closer to bus stops now thankfully

  • Comment number 27.

    While I certainly appreciate what you are trying to do, I must confess that I find your efforts to be futile. I mean, I assume that all or most of these trips to supermarkets and the like are done by car. Are you not wasting petrol and increasing your carbon footprint while attempting (your certainly noble goal) of finding plastic free fruits?

    The only way you are going to get plastic free or unpackaged fruits is if you go to the fields yourself. This might be feasible once or twice for a determined person such as yourself, but how would this be practical for society at large? Maybe we should all start little farms for the fruits and vegetables we need?

    Anyway, good luck with your quest, but please keep what I said in mind.

  • Comment number 28.

    Companies seem fixated with plastic. If cans are can so easily be 100% recycled, why have so many soft manufacturers made the switch to plastic bottles which I cannot recycle in my area? I've queried this several times to Coca-Cola, including a letter to the CEO's office, but they don't have the courtesy to reply. Why have Heinz switched the majority of their ketchup bottles from glass to plastic which I cannot recycle either? They too have failed to respond to my enquiries. Perhaps you could make this the subject of your next blog for the BBC? Or perhaps those companies will think they can afford to ignore you too!

  • Comment number 29.

    To reduce packaging, one of our supermarket chains in Australia (Coles) has farmers pack the fruit and veg into the containers it is then displayed for sale in - cuts down handling too. The containers then go back to the farmers and so on.

    Re menstruation

    I used to use pieces of natural sponge on strong button thread. Much comfier than tampons and then can be boiled and reused for ages.

  • Comment number 30.

    One solution is to be a little less reliant on the Supermarkets. I have recently taken on 2 Allotments and have now got a serious quantity of vegetables growing away. While this may not be the answer for everybody, it is my way of attempting to remove myself some little bit from the consumer based society that we have become. I must be carefull here, as I must admit to using plastic plant pots to raise the plants! These, however, will not be thrown away and will last many years before becoming too damaged to become serviceable. I would love to see a return to the use of paper bags to put your veg in, and cardboard pulp punnetts for your strawberries. It is the supermarkets that must be educated by us. If we do not want all this plastic packaging, we must make them aware of this. E-Mail them and tell them your wishes. It was us as consumers that dictated that we needed all these plastic bags and packaging as our demand for higher quality fruit and veg developed over the last 30 years. This is our doing. Ours alone. My veg are a bit grubby when they are uprooted, but once washed are far superior in taste to anything shop bought as they are much fresher. And no plastic packaging in sight!. Get Digging. Kev

  • Comment number 31.

    @16

    "Who is AdeJones and who does s/he /work for - a packaging company? What rubbish to say that cardboard takes more energy to produce than plastic"

    Ahh the usual ad hominem attack when someone dares to post something off-message.

    It's an easily checkable fact, paper (and board) production use much more resources than plastic, even recycling paper consumes more resources than manufacturing the equivalent plastic packaging.

    The truth is, working out the true environmental cost of something is very difficult and what we perceive to be the "best thing to do" may in fact be merely an emotional response and the opposite of the truth.

    I suspect that if you want soft fruit that is more environmentally sound than the plastic punnets you will have to take your own receptical and pick your own.

  • Comment number 32.

    Greeninthesuburbs wrote 'Who is AdeJones and who does s/he /work for - a packaging company? What rubbish to say that cardboard takes more energy to produce than plastic and 'has impacts associated with its degredation"

    To answer your question - I'm a chartered environmental scientist with 20 years experience, currently working in the field of waste strategy. I'm also a member of the Green Party and a committed environmentalist. My comments are evidence based.

    If the plastic is captured and recycled, the energy cost of doing so is very modest compared to making new plastic. 3 orders of magnitude less, as it happens. You refer to the composting of cardboard in your reply - this is actually quite a bad thing to do with cardboard if you care for the environment, as you are using a high carbon intensity product to produce a low-grade compost with negligible value. Not just my view, but DEFRA's view as well.

    The fact is - by following traditional thought-lines around recycling, you could be exacerbating a problem, not resolving one. You need to use full lifecycle assessment when considering these issues - and this can throw up counterintuitive results. I'm not surprised at your reaction to my original post - it would have been similar to mine several years ago before I started researching these issues in depth.

  • Comment number 33.

    I know this is no use to you in your Aug2008 quest, but perhaps you might like to think about GrowYourOwn for next year?

    If I need strawbs or raspberries, I pull on my wellies and go into my garden. I have peas, beans, carrots and spuds too, and I CompostMyOwn and MulchMyOwn. OK, admittedly bananas and pineapples are a bit tricky!

    And there's plenty of wild stuff around here that my ex-city dwelling neighbours don't fight me for - shaggy ink caps on their lawn, for example. I took my kids out last Monday to pick wild bilberries, and in a few more weeks it'll be bleggie time. Nature is quite generous with her freebies.

  • Comment number 34.

    You could come to the Czech Republic! Many of our green-grocers still cell berries in the cardboard containers. My guess, however, is that if the EU finds out, we will be required to put them in plastic....

  • Comment number 35.

    yes well...regarding your sign-off comment - I am told that PYO's (when was the last time you actually saw one?) have virtually ceased to exist because of the downward shift in public morals - families arrive and pick and eat so much of the fruit before the check-out that it has ceased to be economic for farmers to operate in this way.

    Or is this just an urban rural myth?

  • Comment number 36.

    Like the majority of comments on the blog, I completely support your stance and will be watching with interest. However is this merely an experiment or a genuine attempt to show us how to change our lives? Will the BBC take this further and publise on a larger scale your struggle?

    I am an english guy living in Germany but working in the UK in the week. It is so refreshing to live in a country (Germany that is!) where people are generally more socially aware of their obligations as citizens. This covers a wide range of things, ranging from personal, alcohol and reycling. No one has to paid money to be encouraged to recycle, they do it because they have to and because it is the right thing to do.

    Will the majority in the UK ever take that step? I'm not holding my breath, however as always if those of us who care just give up then nothing will change.

    Have fun with the plastic.

  • Comment number 37.

    Why make plastic the scapegoat? It is still a very useful product and when used sensibly and in moderation, it can be beneficial. It is supposed to keep the produce fresh and away from the germs passed on by handling or simply a cough!

    I think some supermarkets are already encouraging people to recycle their plastic bags or bring their own shopping bags, and some local authorities are putting out recycling bins in the neighbourhood.

    The culprit is us, the consumers.
    We have an insatiable demand for better products and services all the time. We want our purchases to be well packaged and nicely displayed, so the industry obliges us.

    Are we prepared to give up all this modernity and go back to basics or being rustic?

  • Comment number 38.

    Well done for trying to ditch the plastic punnets. I have been purposefully leaving all unnecessary packaging at supermarket checkouts for over a year now. There is a really mixed response to this from the checkout operators. Some are really supportive and others really sniffy about it. If more of us did this and their waste bill went up maybe they would start to get the packaging message.

    So I buy punnets of peaches or plums for instance and then tip them loose into my (brought from home) bag and give the packaging back. I also do this with grapes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers etc. So I am taking naked fruit and veg home with me, not the plastic.

    The strawberries are a biggger issue however due to possible damage. I am taking these punnets home though, as they are a really useful size. I reuse them as lunchboxes, storage for home made flapjacks, containers for all manner of things around the house. There is one acting as a CD rack on my desk now. So I keep bringing the strawberry punnets home until stocks are sufficient, then I take them back to the supermarket and tip my new strawberries into the old punnets.

  • Comment number 39.

    Interesting reading. I always shop at our local greengrocer's - everything bar berries and, for some reason, aubergines comes naked, and they don't mind me not bagging anything (they have paper bags which I use for mushrooms and tomatoes then recycle). Possibly buying local is more important than buying naked, but knowing how much energy went into farming and production is impossible - it's a difficult issue, but overall I don't understand all the downer comments you're getting about how this challenge is pointless and futile. Instead of making the effort to do one small thing, people seem to like to look at everything they can't/won't do, decide any small effort is therefore pointless, and knock those who do try. If the attitude is that there's no point recycling a plastic bottle if you drive a car, fly on holiday and wear polyester, no wonder most people don't do a thing to reduce waste and pollution!

    My advice for soft fruit when the challenge is over - if you can recycle plastic bottles in your area, you can probably recycle type 1 plastic (e.g. plastic Coke bottle) and type 2 plastic (e.g. plastic milk bottle). Check the punnets - some of them are type 1 and can therefore be recycled. I have noticed that council-run recycling schemes always say 'bottles ONLY' (they probably consider us too stupid to be able to locate the 1 and 2 symbols on packaging), so if you have a collection system maybe those picking up your recycling would chuck anything not a bottle, but it's worth a try.

    Mainly I wanted to second someone's suggestion of the Mooncup in place of tampons or pads, both for the challenge and after (you need a couple of cycles to get used to it anyway). Reusable pads would also cut out plastic, but the Mooncup is more hygienic, more comfortable, safer and probably more energy efficient. For £18 you get a silicone cup which lasts for ages (mine's done 2 years and is still going strong) in a cotton bag in a cardboard box with a paper leaflet. No it doesn't leak, no you can't feel it, yes you will wonder why you ever thought tampons were a good invention.

  • Comment number 40.

    Why not move to Romania like I did? all the fruite and veg can be bought at the local markets (or even side of the road in many places) picked straight from people's gardens ... tastes better than fruit and veg ever did when I lived inthe UK and when I buy I'm helping ordinary people to feed their families! The stall holder hands you the scales pan and you put the fruits or veg of your choice into it then he/she weighs it and there you go, no plastic anywhere in sight, unless you choose to use plastic carrier bags, but then even these are re-used again and again and again in this thrifty society!

  • Comment number 41.

    In the USA, this is the way fresh fruit is put in the Grocery store produce aisles. The Trucker picks up his shipment from Florida (say oranges that are grown in florida). He hauls them from Florida all the way to California, at least a 4 day trip, takes them to the buyer in California. There, they ask him if he has any load to go back to Florida, he tells them no, not at that time, they tell him to wait and he can take the oranges back to Florida, as soon as they stamp :shipped from California" on the produce. Isnt it a wonderful world we live in!!!!
    Fresh fruit from California all the way from Florida.....

  • Comment number 42.

    Wild berries - strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and even blueberries abound if one knows that they look like when growing and takes the time to look. And you don't need to be "way out in the wilds" to see them. In mid-June this year when on a 1 week visit to Toledo, husband Paul and I while exploring in 4 different preserves within the city limits spied all the above, except blueberries. The strawberries were ripening and we picked many, taking them back to our extended stay hotel room to have with our meals. The raspberry and blackberry canes were plentiful with signs of a bountiful number of berries in the weeks to come.

    We seemed to be the only ones taking notice of the berries in those Toledo park preserves - most everyone else was jogging/fast walking past on the walkways either in conversation w/ a partner or listening to what was coming over their ear phones. It was the rare person we saw who was even taking notice of the wildlife, and there were plenty of deer.

    Our Ontario home property and surrounding area has more berries than we can possibly pick - except the blueberries, which are less in number, though I'm encouraging the plants on our property. And we have frozen blackberries in the past and will be doing so again since they are very plentiful again.

    As for containers holding berries sold in the stores, many in the US in past years were of balsa wood, easily curved and then stapled. This was how the quart of fresh grown strawberries were packed that we bought at a Toledo strawberry farm. There are also many pick-your-own berry locations where berries are grown - a great opportunity for those who lose track of where the food in the grocery stores actually comes from.

    Reusing and recycling the berry and other containers is a long time practice with us. I haven't bought a plastic storage container in many years.

    **Kitty Antonik Wakfer
    Casa Grande AZ and Harcourt Park Ontario

  • Comment number 43.

    1,500,000,000 pounds annually.

    An estimate of the amount of stretch film used for packaging in a year, most of which ends up in landfills. This is what I found by doing a simple search engine query.

    Perhaps the question is not so much where it ends up, rather, is it quickly and totally biodegradable (unlike many plastics which simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces over vastly long periods of time – these plastic bits can absorb hormone disrupting pesticides which are injected into the food chain and eaten by smaller creatures mistaking them for food – the small animals with pesticides then end up eaten by larger animals and the pesticides eventually forever accumulate in a human adipose tissues potentially causing maladies such as fertility reduction).

    A number of companies are developing solutions which meet the requirement of total and quick biodegradability. These include tray packaging, water bottles, stretch wrap, etc. The ultimate question in my mind is can we avoid mixing pure biodegradables and biodegradable polymers with those which are not biodegradable – a fact we need to be aware of when looking to the future. Biopolymers are being mixed with petro-based polymers, a solution which is obviously a non-solution. We - as responsible, caring, individuals whom are concerned with the future of our children and lineages – need to impress upon ourselves the importance of looking for and selecting only products and containers which are made of pure totally-degradable biopolymers such as corn, potatoes, and other starch based products. This is not to say starch based products are the only biomass packaging products which should be or are being developed. There are always new innovations and current technologies which could be expanded further.

    Lastly, although profit is the bottom line in business, despite the best outward appearance of environmental concern, i.e., marketing strategy, forward thinking companies will achieve greater long range, and quite possibly short range, success and survivability by investing a greater portion of their interest and concern into solutions which truly – truly make them champions in this quickly changing environmental economy. A company which shows true responsibly and concern regarding our childrens’ futures by seeking and promoting environmentally sound products has my enduring commitment. And, a few grants and political promotions of recycling by companies would not hurt either.

  • Comment number 44.

    Can somebody please explain to me this obvious paranoia about "Plastics"? The issue is a complicated one and before you embark on a crusade get the facts first.
    What do I want to achieve - abandoning plastics or some environmental benefit. Which one?
    What are the altenatives?
    What is the environmental impact of plastics and the alternatives from cradle to grave?
    How is the plastic and the alterative disposed of? Landfil? Incineration? Composting?
    How much energy and resources are used in collecting, sorting and recycling plastics?
    What is the percentage of plastics in the ladfill?
    Etc. Etc.
    Could I do more good in focusing my energies on more important issues?
    Do your homework.

  • Comment number 45.

    There's a sweet little shop opposite Puntey Bridge Tube station that sells summer fruits in cardboard boxes - not a plastic punnet in sight!

  • Comment number 46.

    Re: soft fruits.

    Surely handing back an empty punnet to the supermarket it cheating.

    Is it not merely asking somebody else to dispose of your plastic waste out of sight? The same argument stands for transferal of said fruit from the punnet at the shelf - the punnet will still be not be reused and disposed of later.

    Asking someone else to throw it away does not make it theirs!

    Having said this I am in full support. Living in Belgium I get to see both sides of the recycling 'coin'. We have one of the highest percentage recycling rates in Europe at over 70% (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6539813.stm%29, however we also have supermarket chains that wrap each individual orange in plastic before they go into the plastic netting! Pointless in the extreme!

    Christchurch, New Zealand (not sure if it extends beyond the city) also has a great recycling system where the only things not collected are food waste. Indeed households are required to sort their plastic waste according to type, using the number printed inside the triangle on all plastic products. Everything is then removed once a week for recycling.

    At the very least, most EU countries offer 3 colours of public bins for different types of rubbish. Going back to the UK is now a shock to the system with its indiscriminate disposal of waste.

  • Comment number 47.

    Chisnapc:

    Huh?? You claim 70% recycling of solid waste without picking up the food scraps?? Um, sounds very, very unlikely to me. Divide by ten and multiply by three and you get a more reasonable number.

  • Comment number 48.

    Airplanedave - chisnapc is right - the recycling rate in Flanders is over 70%. I've seen a couple of presentations by an officer from the regional government giving the detail. It's so high because they have extensive kerbside collection of segregated materials backed up by a good network of collection facilities - plus variable charging, and a switched-on population. We're just getting started on the kerbside bit in the UK, and our network of collection facilities can best be described as 'fair, room for improvement.' Variable charging has, of course, been demonised by our tabloid press...

  • Comment number 49.

    Oh dear. The BBC is getting as bad as the CBC in censoring people. I said (in two posts) something about what doggies do early in the morning or late at night, depending on when you walk them. I did not use the swear word for what they do. Okay, I'll call it do-do. Will this get past?

    Anyways this is from The Guardian:

    Britain is particularly interested. UK figures for total amounts of household waste are roughly comparable with those of Flanders, but there are startling differences: Flanders' recycling rates of 72% in rural areas and over 60% in urban areas are among the highest in the world, dwarfing England's 28%.

    Almost everything here is recycled. From (oops) doggie do-do to batteries and empty paint cans. There is no way on Earth that Flanders is recycling 72% of everything. We're at a humble 48% here in Canada and the UN says that's the highest in the world. Let's get an even playing field, eh?

  • Comment number 50.

    Dear Airplanedave,

    I don't claim anything, only reference what the BBC wrote with regard to the amount of recycling in Belgium/Flanders.

    Having lived here a while I can believe it is that within that region as everything is segregated before collection. Under my sink I have 5 different colours of binbag, each for a different type of waste. The basement of my modest apartment building (maybe 20 flats) has 10 corresponding industrial bins.

    While the Belgians do not yet scrape dog residue from the streets (a very serious problem here!) we do have battery bins etc. Plastic bags are also sold at shops and not given away freely.

    My comment about food waste was in relation to the collections in New Zealand where I also lived for a time.

    Rather than getting into a shouting match about who is best, I was merely pointing out that even in countries with rates which most consider high, there is room for improvement - note my comment about wrapping oranges.

    Regards,

  • Comment number 51.

    to wot90s (comment 41)

    That is certainly not what happens with oranges in the US. I live in the part of California where we actually grow oranges, and we've got more than enough acreage to grow them without resorting to the sort of trickery you describe.

  • Comment number 52.

    #49 - Airplanedave - the figures are correct for Flanders - I've seen the detailed data, and spoken to officials about it. My colleague has been there and checked out what they do.
    The English figures are out of date, btw. The 2007 average was nearly 31%, and this year will be higher than that.

  • Comment number 53.

    I am always so frustrated when I do my food shopping; it's so difficult to try and buy products with only cardboard, metal or glass packaging. I find what you said about plastic use for loose fruit and veg very interesting; I hadn't even thought of plastic used during transportation.

    I try to buy my fruit and veg from a nearby market on the outskirts of Paris. The trouble is that they still try and give me plastic bags even if I refuse because I have brought a caddy or a shopping bag!

    Interesting insight into soft fruit, which is crushable by ITS nature (shame on you!).

    I shall be coming back to see how you're doing! Good luck on your quest!

  • Comment number 54.

    Also, with regards to the comments on wrapped oranges, I have seen a similar kind of thing here in France as well as in the UK if I remember correctly. In the 'organic' section of the fruit and veg stalls, you can pick up four deliciously organic apples, sitting nicely in a POLYSTYRENE tray and covered in PLASTIC CLING FILM. Surely the whole point of being organic is to do as little harm to the environment as possible. Apparently, this packaging conserves the fruit longer because being organic, they go off earlier.

    Pfft, I say !

  • Comment number 55.

    Soft fruit is a problem. Using your own containers in a local fruiterer is one solution. Generally, do not use plastic. If you come across it look for alternatives. You will get little help from superstore staff so shop local most of the time. Do not compromise and staff will soon respect your choice.

    Polythene is one plastic type which can be recycled to sheet material producers. I am sure there will be further positive change. Consumer actions will impact on superstores practices. The more people take up the sustainable challenge the more certain the outcome.

  • Comment number 56.

    PYO is such a great thing to do, on soooo many levels. eating local uses far fewer fossil fuels, supports local economy, local farmers, is better for your family, and you can avoid plastic altogether! i'm playing along with your avoiding plastic game, and i'll vouch for you; it's extremely difficult!

  • Comment number 57.

    I went to a local greengrocer (I wonder if you are from Lancashire too, given that you went to Garstang?), and they sell redcurrents in little cardboard boats (from the Netherlands, but still!). I'm sure I have also seen blueberries in card similar to egg cartons, perhaps in the Borough Market in London. I think it is possible to buy them in card from independent places like that. Otherwise, I'm sure a stallholder or greengrocer wouldn't mind if you emptied the plastic punnet into a (non-plastic) bag, box, or tray you'd taken along - I doubt a supermarket would, though.

  • Comment number 58.

    PS - If you go for a walk in the country (or anywhere semi-rural), you should be able to collect as much soft fruit in the form of blackberries as you could want.

  • Comment number 59.

    However if you dont live in the country, or have the time to go picking your own and need convenience, like the vast majority of the country then you need packaging.

    It minimises waste and serves up a fresh product at your convenience.

  • Comment number 60.

    In Sicilian markets, and probably others in southern Italy, you choose your own fruit and veg, which the stallholder then weighs and puts into a paper bag....and then pops the paper bag into a plastic one as well! I take a reuseable bag to put the paper bags in, but have to stop the stall holder using the extra plastic bag. I have managed to train one or two, but generally they do this automatically, and I don't see other people using reuseable shopping bags.

    Irritatingly, the plastic bags you get from the market are generally too small to even be re-used as bin liners! And where do the end up? Well, often in the sea! On Sunday we fished out a whole bag full of plastic bags, and yesterday collected two plastic bags full of plastic bottles from the beach.

    Recycling here is pretty haphazard, with some large bins in the streets for 'plastic' 'paper' and 'glass', but with no indication about which type/colour/grade of the above should go into them. I put my collected plastic into the 'plastic' bin anyway. Urban myth has it that the contents of the bins all goes to the same landfill as the general waste; certainly the recyclables collected must be pretty low grade - almost useless probably.

    Incidentally, I remember that strawberries here come in little blue plastic pummets (without lids) which are then put into paper bags, which are then put into....plastic bags!

  • Comment number 61.

    There are "naked" blueberries regularly on sale on the fruit and veg market stall on Inverness Street in Camden, London. They come in small cardboard punnets. Wholly recyclable.

  • Comment number 62.

    Slightly off topic of naked strawberries - but in the spirit of naked veg - you can get naked cucumbers at Lidl as well.

  • Comment number 63.

    Plastic bag vs. paper bag

    If a pallet holds 1,000,000 plastic bags (for arguments sake) then you would need 23 pallets for 1,000,000 paper bags! That is a fact.

    Aside from this paper production is far from eco-friendly. Most of the world paper production is not from sustainable forestry. In fact paper is so energy intensive in it's production (drying of wet mulch etc) that it is significantly less eco-friendly than plastic.

    Yet we all 'think' paper bags must be better.

    The sooner we wake up to the facts and the science here the better.

    PS: Plastic bags dont suicidally throw themselves to the ocean in search of turtles and doplhins to choke. People throw them away. Litter is not a packaging problem, it's a behavoural issue.

  • Comment number 64.

    Idontmuchbut wrote 'Plastic bag vs. paper bag

    If a pallet holds 1,000,000 plastic bags (for arguments sake) then you would need 23 pallets for 1,000,000 paper bags! That is a fact.'

    The figure I've seen is 6 times the packing density (and weight) rather than 23, but your point still holds here.

    You are spot on when you refer to the impacts of paper - and the impacts of plastic in the environment. Plastic isn't a bad option if it is all captured and recycled. Paper is a worse option regardless of whether it is captured or not - if it isn't captured, it has impacts during its degradation, and if it is, it takes quite a bit more energy than plastic to recycle (and to make in the first place.)

    This is why we need differential hierarchies for different waste streams, to look at best environmental options for each one. The old waste hierarchy is not always the best option, and should not be followed prescriptively. This is a developing area of work at the moment, and all comes down to (as I pointed out earlier) the importance of good lifecycle assessment of products.

  • Comment number 65.

    #64:

    fully agree. the science and facts need to prevail. At the moment the public is guided by what 'feels right' and that will sadly get us nowhere.

    This whole piece about a month without plastic is a perfect example. What about a month without travel, or electricity, or central heating? It would have a far greater positive effect on the planet.

    The BBC has leant toward a more balanced and open minded constructive debate of alate (re' environment / waste), this piece of hogwash undermines the recent steps taken and continues to reinforce misconceptions that have fostered ineffective changes under the banner of 'doing my bit'.

    PS: I got my x23 from an industry slide, it could be wrong. Even at x6, as you say the point still holds.

  • Comment number 66.

    idontmuchbut: So, do you mean I should try to get them to ditch the paper bags and just go for the plastic ones? I dont know if it's true, but many store holders here use paper bags for certain products e.g. tomatoes, bananas, parsley because they say these 'sweat' in plastic bags.

    Also, I do know that plastic bags dont deposit themselves in the ocean!

  • Comment number 67.

    Environmentally plastics bags are much better than paper, from an energy, distribution and carbon perspective. That is a proven fact.

    A 'loosely' tied plastic bag will allow any produce to breath, thus avoiding any "sweating". Plastic packaging designed for the job will invariably be of 'modified atmosphere (MAP) and have tiny perforations or treatments to allow this 'breathing' and/or keep out oxygen etc, thus extending shelf-life.

  • Comment number 68.

    I buy fruit and veg at the St. Albans market most weekends. I can get all manner of berries from most of the stalls in a brown paper bag. I hope that information is helpful to waste-savers.

  • Comment number 69.

    A small comment to berry foragers, especially those picking near roads - please be very careful to wash, or avoid near roads as many blackberry bushes have been sprayed with herbicides and other chemicals. Also, you probably don't want to eat the dust from cars!

  • Comment number 70.

    I was thinking good work, but the irony of this for me, where I live in Manchester, it's easier to recycle plastic than cardboard.

    The council collects neither, but plastic is a quick trip to our local supermarket, wheras the nearest dump that will accept cardboard is a bus ride and a walk away (We don't run a car). Or, if I don't have too much, don't make a habit of it and I ask very nicely, I can put it in with the recycling at work.

    But when I'd managed to accumulate quite a lot earlier this year, I ended up paying £15 for a local social enterprise to take it away.

    Swings and roundabouts, I guess...

  • Comment number 71.

    Addition to comment 69.

    And even though you're going to wash them, always always pick above the "dog-line." Xp

  • Comment number 72.

    As much as I admire what you are trying to do by cutting down on plastic, I wonder if you are using a car to traipse around looking for plastic free items and therefore increasing the amount of fuel which you use. Not only will this then increase your carbon footprint but surely any savings from buying items free from plastic will be eaten up in fuel costs.

    I think reducing packaging needs to be done by suppliers rather than consumers but good on you for trying to make a difference.

  • Comment number 73.

    Well lucky you eocafe having room to grow your own fruit and veg. Spare a thought for those of us living in houses/flats with no gardens or not enough to grow food in!

    Whilst this is a noble idea, it's completely futile. And whilst we're at it the government should be forcing manufacturers, supermarkets and companies to reduce their packaging as there's not much point in getting "average joe" to recycle if the manufacturers simply replace it with more plastic!!! About time the government targetted the big wasters rather than the little guy.

  • Comment number 74.

    Just out of interest, I was taking photos in the park the other day and noticed the fenced off waste ground area were covered with blackberry bushes, like much of the railway embankments in the UK. So I ended up nibbling a few delicious berries while I took my snaps. I don't know if there's any rule against this or not, but if it's allowed and you want some fresh berries it might be a fun activity to do one weekend with your kids. I recall happy times visiting pick-a-berry farms in New Zealand with my parents and as far as I can tell these plants are just growing in some places as untreated weeds. =)

  • Comment number 75.

    To eat healthy fruit and vegs AND don't waste plastic, I decided to grew my own vegetable plot.

    Yes, it's very time expensive, but very satisfactory! And the food is superlative!

    Bye, and keep going!
    Your mission is noble and your blog is superb.

  • Comment number 76.

    Re #2 : "The other idea is more radical, and that is to return your empty punnets to the supermarket or better still, take a reusable container with you and empty them into that at the checkout, once your item has been scanned; then hand back the plastic punnets."

    Good idea but when you give the plastic containers back to the super market, do they recycle them? Or do they just get dumped in a huge bin outside to be added to the other rubbish? I would be genuinely interested to know.

    Great job Chris!!


  • Comment number 77.

    #76 - re the handing back of packaging idea - having paid for said goods, that packaging becomes yours. If you then hand it back, legally you are technically depositing household waste at a site without any legal permission to accept that material. It's theoretically the same as flytipping... [in practice, I suspect said supermarkets merely put it in with the general waste.]

    But to answer your second point - there is a growing movement by supermarkets to register 'exempt waste management activities' thus allowing the collection of recyclable materials at nominated 'Front of Store' collection points in a much more organised fashion. Said material is then forwarded for onwards recycling.

    Check out this link.

    http://www.packaging-gateway.com/features/feature1324/

 

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