Eco Congregation and Fairtrade Church

The Eco Group at Keynsham Methodist Church continues to challenge organisations on its attitude to plastic, particularly single use plastic as our Town Council has set an objective to become a single use free plastic town. Looking at the retailers in our town, we were given a promise by Tesco in April that the trial of selling mushrooms in cardboard boxes had proved successful and that it was hoped to roll this out in all stores. Unfortunately plastic boxes were soon re introduced and are still being used. We were also told that Tesco would take steps to cease the production of stand-alone single use plastic items such as drinking cups, but regretfully there has been no progress here. In fact over the year the sale of such products increased.  We continue to chase Tesco on these issues. We must however give credit to Tesco in choosing our local store as one of ten stores trailing a scheme to collect and re cycle plastic such as crisp packets, pet food pouches etc which were ending in landfill. We hope this proves to be a success and results in it being introduced at all stores.

On contacting Boots the Chemist we were advised that plastic bags are being replaced by brown paper carrier bags and these should be available in all stores by early 2020. Lloyds Pharmacy advises that if purchasing an item or having a prescription made up locally paper bags will be used but plastic will be used by its centralised dispensing system.

A store that has good credentials on plastic packaging is Iceland which has given a commitment to eliminate plastic from its own label range by the end of 2023. In the summer two initiatives that were introduced in selective stores were not successful. Using a paper band instead of plastic bags for bananas resulted in an increase in waste and a fall in sales, whilst the installation of a completely plastic free produce section in a store in Liverpool resulted in a 20% fall in fresh produce sales. However much a retailer is committed to the elimination of plastic, sales loses such as these are unsustainable and the initiatives were withdrawn. Undeterred Iceland is launching new alternative trials in selected stores and we hope that the consumers will be more receptive to them.

One national retailer in our High Street where our approaches have been completely ignored is Poundland. We have sent three e mails directly to the CEO Barry Williams asking him a series of questions. We advised him of our Town Council’s policy on single use plastic and asked as a prime retailer in our High Street what his company would be doing to support it. We also asked why his store needs to stock so much single use plastic such as beer mugs, shot glasses, champagne flutes and cutlery, all of which as they are marketed as disposable will end up in land fill. Plastic cutlery is particularly lethal, to such an extent that its sale in France has been banned from 2022, as it will remain in landfill for over 200 years. We also referred him to the Plastic Pact launched by the Waste and Resources Action Group, which has set 4 world leading targets to be achieved by 2025 which will transform the amount of plastic packaging used. So far 68 of our High Street retailers have signed up which includes the majority of our national supermarkets. Poundland is not a signatory and we asked Mr. Williams why not? As our group has drawn a blank here, our local group of young people in Keynsham – called KeynshamNow under the mentorship of Andy Wait – has taken up the challenge of trying to get answers from Poundland. We wish them well.

One plastic product that causes us great concern is the collar that drink manufacturers use on their can four packs. These not only end up in landfill but also find their way into our oceans where they can cause great pain and suffering to our maritime and bird life. Action has already been taken by Carlsberg and Guinness who are holding their cans together by recyclable glue. We have contacted the CEOs of the Heineken and Carling drink groups, both of whom advise that alternatives to plastic collars are being trialled and should be introduced soon. We will be monitoring them. When challenging such companies, detailed response are invariably received which advise of other areas where the businesses are taking different action. The Carling Group advised that from their factory in Burton, used yeast goes to the nearby Marmite factory and spent grain is used for cattle feed.

We will be continuing monitoring and challenging and will be turning our attentions to other retailers in our High Street. Whist the recycling of more plastic is of course welcome the main objective has to be plastic reduction. Achieving that is not just the responsibility of business as we the consumers can also play our part by not purchasing products packed in plastic. May I conclude and repeat a question I have asked before. Why, why, why buy bottled water as our tap water is probably the safest in the world? So let’s all try and give bottled water a miss!!

 

Mike Barrow

Eco Group

Keynsham Methodist Church