Monday, 1 August 2011

START with packaging

Last Friday, I heard the comment, “…it's not that important an issue”, from a British Retail Consortium representative in reference to the number of carrier bags being used and discarded by the general public. It has been five years since the NFWI launched its campaign to cut the amount of packaging on certain foods and goods to reduce waste and its detrimental impact on the environment and wildlife so the fact that 6.8 billion bags go to landfill in a year should be an important issue for all WI members, if not to the rest of society. In our throw away culture where plastic bags still represent 0.3% of all household waste, perhaps the WI should be back on that campaign trail.

In 2006, the main thrust of the campaign was to reduce the number of plastic bags produced and used, as well as the amount of packaging for certain goods, e.g. the WI called for more loose sales for fruit and vegetables, and to reduce the amount of packaging where it was deemed necessary. Reducing the amount of packaging used means that less is sent to landfill meaning less methane gas is produced, which ultimately reduces the effects of climate change. At the time, I was interviewed by Jennie Murrie on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to discuss the example of over packaged vegetables. I took four parsnips on a polystyrene tray, wrapped in cling film with me, and right on cue they oozed liquid onto the desk, proving that such covering of fresh vegetables was not desirable.

I'm sure we all have several hessian bags – both purchased and given out free – that we can use instead of plastic bags. Until about 30 years ago every household had a shopping bag or two but with the advent of supermarkets, the plastic carrier bag has taken their place. There is no doubt that the WI's 2006 campaign made a big difference to shopping bag habits; the use of plastic bags decreased, but unfortunately, their use has gone up once again.

The reasons for our 2006 campaign remain the same; degradation of the environment and climate change. These are still major issues that the WI continues to tackle.

Those very issues of environment and climate change are behind HRH Prince of Wales' START project who invited the WI was invited into the garden of Clarence House where superb displays of sustainable gardening and growing by the Soil Association, Garden Organic and the National Trust were on show last week. There was a fantastic forest garden exhibit and representatives from the British Bee Keepers Association was also there; I was able to chat for a while with the lady bee keeper there, informing her about all the WI had done with its SOS for Honeybees campaign, which is still ongoing!