Loop, without rose tinted specs.

So apparently Tetrapack have joined forces with some of the large consumer brand companies such as P & G, Unilever and Nestle to bring us their solution to the global disaster that is excess plastic waste. This is called Loop. From my understanding the idea is that consumers buy into a scheme whereupon their favourite household brands such as Dove, Marmite, Pantenne, various cleaners etc are delivered to the home in a reusable tote. All the containers for these brands are going to be in reusable containers, aluminium, glass. Read the article here: You buy and use the products and then when they’re running out, you get a new delivery and return your packaging from the previous one in the same tote it came in. It does seem such a simple thing and yes, tick, this WILL reduce plastic waste, but as I have been thinking and reading more about this, I am not sure that this is ‘the solution’ and this is why:

  1. Tetrapack will have you held over a barrel to big brand names, okay, fine if you like those and are happy with their ethics, but there are alternative less mega-buck, chemical laden products from smaller providers…This is a subscription plan and therefore, in terms of choice, restrictive. It is ‘a’ solution, but honestly, it is quite a simplistic attempt. If these companies can provide products in this type of packaging for the subscribers, then why can they not roll out the plan globally for the shelf in the supermarket.
  2. Economically, is this REALLY the answer? I read an article this week about doughnut economics. I have interpreted it that the hole is those who are struggling to stay afloat in the current economy and the doughnut is where we all want to be, where it’s safe and secure. However, it’s easy to use the earth’s resources to overshoot the doughnut and end up over the other edge and we are currently beginning to do this. We need to be on the doughnut meeting everyone’s needs whilst not exploiting it. I feel I have explained it really badly, but the gist of it is that it isn’t the mega-bucks companies that will help us to do this, but the collective work of the few. I recommend you have a read of Kate Raworth’s work on Doughnut economies to get a better idea. Here is her TED talk on the subject
  3. How much will the rich benefit even more and the poor suffer still if we’re using these particular products to our door because we can afford to do so and missing out on those trying to make a living in an ethical way on the high street or at local markets? When a big cat lines his pockets, somewhere in the world someone is going without a meal, linking to Kate’s economic model above. Those who know me, know how I feel about Nestle, I have been boycotting their products since I was in my twenties. If we are to get everyone on this doughnut, this needs to be a part of our thoughts when we buy. I admit to being in need of a re-set. I find Amazon all too easy when I need to get hold of something. There are ways of having ease and convenience whilst still ensuring exploitation is reduced. Research the chain!
  4. The whole pack mentality needs to change. Apple is one of the biggest offenders in my opinion. The fact they are continually updating their products to newer versions within, literally months of releasing a previous one and the fact there even has been murmurings (I am not going to state whether it’s true or not as I don’t know) that the battery life is set to deliberately drain quicker after several updates just tells the story for me. Why do we think we need the latest if the current still works? Why do some companies charge less for a new contract on a phone with an upgrade to the latest phone than just renewing the old one? This is partially a need to alter mindset and partly a need for manufacturing companies to make products that last and, if they break, offer reward systems or repairs that encourage the customer to stick with that product and get it mended or part-replaced. This morning on Radio 4 the words ‘saturation point’ came up in relation to Apple. This gave me a glimmer of hope that finally, as economies never remain constantly on the up, companies may start to alter their mindset and products to ensure that we can all (including them!) remain comfortably on that doughnut.
  5. The plastic straw is a bit of a red herring. Whilst yes, single use plastic is destroying our planet, it is a bit of a misnomer to assume that because we eradicate plastic straw and bag usage, than we are saving the planet from this 12 year death sentence. It is a bigger picture than that. Plastic is and always will be the cheaper option. If wages are low, overseas workers are being exploited, then there will always be a need for a cheap alternative because there is always going to be people who don’t have the privilege to choose between a glass bottle or a plastic one.

Over recent years, companies I personally know that have been fantastic at replacing worn out parts or repairing as part of a service deal have been Dyson who used to offer (I say used to as I don’t know if they still do) a repair service for around £100 which included the part if needed but also a service from one of their engineers, Le Creuset will repair and replace handles on both casserole lids and we had some worn out wooden pan handles replaced about 8 years ago from our 20 year old set. Yes, there is a small cost involved, but it is considerably cheaper and less wasteful than yet another perfectly good item ending up in landfill. There are also, and I cannot advocate enough for our local one, independent repair shops. We have one on our high street. He repaired our coffee machine a year ago for just £15. Do your research as he was recommended as a guaranteed De Longhi repairer when we did a bit of googling.

I think my message is, however, do your bit. However small that might be: changing your shopping habits a little, getting rid of single use plastic, using reusable bags, changing the battery in your phone rather than buying a new one, doing one shop a month at the local market or zero waste independent store, moving to fair trade chocolate over regular, learning which pies companies actually have their fingers in, using a high street retailer rather than a larger chain all the time and if you ‘can’ afford, then switch your choices and just open your eyes a little more. I admit I know nothing, I am learning all the time. I don’t feel my eyes have been completely closed all this time, but it is quite shocking when you delve into the murky depths of back scratching and brand ownership you realise just how many layers of webbing there actually are down there. Dante’s inferno-esque layers!

I also want to say that to be fighting against plastic doesn’t mean that you are against plastic altogether. Plastic has its place. The world needs plastic. The world however, has to rethink the word ‘need’. It is important to differentiate between the need for a plastic medical component that saves a life, enables someone to walk or provides a particular part to a pump so families can have clean water, and ‘needing’ a coffee in a single use throw-away cup or ‘needing’ an upgraded phone that does little more than the last one did except perhaps outwardly look a bit more impressive?

My son, who is studying International Development, sent me a message last week telling me he’s stopped eating pork and beef and would I download an app to my phone that he’d learned about in a seminar? It’s called ‘Good On You’. It is an app that has assessed the ethical qualities of many of the leading clothing shops and/or manufacturers. My other son frequently uploads articles to his timeline about animal welfare and the destruction of coral reefs or plastics in the ocean.

I am hoping that they are two of many of the future generation to whom this activism becomes normal rather than deemed ‘hippy’ (or even unnecessary but I don’t think we’ll ever achieve that, there’ll always be something worth fighting for, something wherein we ‘could do better’!) for the desire to want to live on the doughnut with others. For now, my boys, I’m proud of you!

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