A close family friend and mentor once told me that he was spending the afternoon that day litter picking. Apparently, it transpired, he litter picks all the time. Has all the gear in the back of the car and whenever the mood takes him he pulls over and litter picks. He told me it got him out and about, gave him a useful task and benefited the community. While I had done a few litter picks in the past, I didn’t really find them that enjoyable so didn’t quite see the appeal until I became a County Councillor.
Now I enjoy spending my weekends buzzing about on my quad, with a high vis jacket (as you can get away with anything if you have one of those on!) pulling stuff out of hedgerows and upsetting the local District Council with my big piles of rubbish on the village green I expect them to dispose of. Last weekend I let my local village know I was out and I was joined by twelve volunteers who spent a happy morning clearing our verges and hedgerows. When speaking to them afterwards they all said how much they had. It is funny that even finding a bottle full of piss or a disused boiler is fun, but being out in the community, making a difference has a huge impact on mind and spirit.
I used to do my thinking when washing my car, but as that would take up to eight hours (as my OCD would kick in) my wife and children soon put a stop to that, I have found litter picking for a few hours on the weekend very therapeutic and addictive.
However what it has highlighted to me and reinforced is the appalling position we are in with regards to packaging. While I would support jailing anyone who litters, the reality is it will always be an issue and we are not doing enough to deal with the source of the problem. Take my beloved KitKat for example. I have a penchant for one after dinner most nights and to my horror Nestle seem to have decided that instead of the iconic foil and paper wrap that now they will only provide a full plastic wrap.
To make matters worse they have labelled all over it, in true greenwash style, how it is made of recycled plastic and is recyclable! So somehow, we have gone from one of the most abundant metals in the world which is infinitely recyclable, aluminium, and paper to plastic. It even has to be opened in a certain way and only can be dealt with at a recycling centre – not even your collection can cope with it. I have never heard of such nonsense and what makes me so cross is that Nestle seem to think as a consumer I will not see through their marketing bullshit and continue to buy KitKats.
I spoke to my colleagues, who are engineers, and they agreed it was stupid but only after assessing the energy required to make foil versus recycling plastic. They reminded me that we used to, as a nation, pretty much universally have one of the best closed loop environmentally safe distribution method of food before we moved to plastic. That was via milk bottles, delivered at an ungodly hour on electric floats. This genius system meant the packaging was recycled continuously but most importantly just used hot water to clean the bottles rather than melting it down and all the associated cost in making it back up again into a new product.
While this is a blog about packaging and plastic the main culprit for me seems to be recycling. I am dumbfounded by how many councillors believe recycling is environmentally friendly and that the crap people mix into their waste is somehow magically going to be made into new products and not end up on beaches in Turkey or further afield. Coca-Cola used to distribute via glass bottles which were collected, washed and refilled. Then they moved to aluminium cans, granted needed to be recyclable but at least could be infinitely recycled and caused little damage to the local environment if it was discarded. Now it is plastic bottles which can only be recycled a few times in its life and if discarded risks becoming everlasting plastic in our ecosystem.
For me we need to start with our legislation and either tax non-biodegradable packaging or reward those that reuse without using recycling centres. With elections nearly upon us again surely someone speaking out and making this a priority would be a vote winner. Or is it just me litter picking who cares?