In 2005 we spent two years working with Exeter University looking at Riverford’s environmental footprint; in keeping with the thinking of the time we focused on climate change. The conclusions (many of which were counterintuitive) were published, none have been challenged and, though it is time for a review, they remain true today. Transport creates the biggest impact, but packaging is a significant, if confusing issue. The key findings include:
• Recycling does not make packaging OK, just marginally less bad. Never forget the mantra reduce, re-use, recycle in that order. With China’s recent threat to effectively ban the import of plastic waste, the packaging and recycling industry will need to change very quickly. We now have a team, headed by Robyn, who are devoted to questioning every bit of our packaging. As a result, we are confident you will see big reductions in the next year, particularly of plastic.
• Our cardboard veg boxes, despite being made from 100% recycled materials, being re-used several times and being recyclable, still contribute four times the CO2 footprint of all the plastic we use, and almost as much as our lorries. The most effective thing you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your veg is still to leave the box out for collection. I hope that we will one day move to a deposit-carrying, reusable tray that will do hundreds of trips; a substantial obstacle is customer acceptance of plastic, while the £3m cost is another.
• Perhaps most contentiously, on CO2 emissions alone, plastic bags are normally better for the environment than paper. Much as most of us loathe plastic, it should not be condemned out of hand as a lot of its impact depends on how it is disposed of. If your local authority does not recycle plastic bags, please leave ours in your folded-down veg box and we will sort and recycle.
Climate change is not everything; society has underestimated plastic as a source of marine pollution and must work harder to reduce its use, though I still question moving to paper. For onion netting we just switched from plastic to a net made from sustainably managed beech wood; read Robyn’s blog about it online. We intend for this to be just the beginning of a change in the tide.