It’s very easy to be become a waste and recycling obsessive. For many of us there is real pleasure to be had from minimising the amount of waste that goes in the rubbish bin and maximising the amounts going into the recycling containers. When we put out our bins on a Friday, the competitive Hemingway family bristle with self satisfaction when our plastic, and paper recycling volume towers over our neighbours and our non recycling wheelie is the smallest size on offer with its lid is firmly closed whilst our neighbours bulge with black bin bags full of waste, most of which could have been recycled if they had only, like us, they had stood over their kids with the threat of a walk along the beach filling black sacks with jetsam and flotsam rather than an afternoon playing in the garden with their friends.
But whilst, as a nation, we can give ourselves a small pat on the back for slowly starting to catch up our continental European neighbours in terms of recycling, it seems pretty perverse that we are concentrating more on recycling rather than reducing the amount of packaging in the first place.
There is no doubt that packaging sells product. As a designer I have spent 25 years considering how the presentation of a product increases its desirability and this has often meant adding unnecessary plastic see through panes, or posh carrier bags.
Packaging can help food stay fresh for longer and in the case of my pet hate the unopenable (unless you have a Stanley knife or axe lying around),“blister packs” there can be a security element. But surely if we have managed to get the public on the road to understanding the benefits of and to feeling good about recycling we can go a step further and actually get the public to embrace less packaging in the first place. There is a significant group of consumers out there who now routinely choose organic and these in marketing terms are the “leaders” who set trends and are there sat gagging for the next “we are doing something positive with our consuming” trend.
The market is there and importantly the media is out there waiting to have a go at the daft concept of wrapping a cauliflower in cellophane when it already has in its outer leaves, natural packaging. Its time to ridicule and say no to the insane process of putting a few chive stalks in a blister pack when we have “just in time” and sophisticated computerised supply and demand systems that should allow these chives to be delivered with a small bit of jute holding the them together. And what is the point in walking into Comet and buying a European adapter plug that has cost a few pence to manufacture in the Far East and for it to be blister packed as if it were a prime target for men with striped t shirts, masks and swag bags over their shoulders.
We can start to end this over packaging by introducing a packaging tax and now, in the early period of this governments new term, is the time to do it. Some of the more sensationalist media will cry “stealth tax”… but it wouldn’t be a stealth tax. In a short period businesses will find new ways of presenting their products (and there are plenty of designers out there waiting to help them!!!) rather than pay the tax.
You only have to visit a Swedish supermarket to see the amount of food that you put into your own containers, to see the innovative packaging refund systems to see how their packaging tax kick started a reduction in packaging. The Swedish packaging tax was able to be abolished in 1993 because it was thought to have done its job.
In Finland a packaging tax was introduced in 1994. Tax rates are applied per litre of container with lower rates for containers that are part of special recycling systems. The majority of drinks are now in refillable packages.
The recently introduced Danish Packaging Tax is much wider and more stringent and whilst it is early days the tax on carrier bags has led to a reduction of 70% in the use of paper and plastic materials.
Whilst we would need to be careful that a packaging tax wouldn’t make things too difficult for the smaller manufacturers we do need to go a step further with our waste management.With facts like :
Packaging being 60 per cent by volume of dustbin waste.
Over 60% of litter on beaches is plastic packaging.
An average UK family using 440 plastic bottles a year and only recycling 24 of them (the bottles themselves costing £27 million and costing a further £45 million to dispose of).
80% of all plastic used once and then thrown into landfill.
Even with glass that seems to have captured the recycling imagination we still recycle only 30% , compared to Switzerland with 91% and Finland with 89%
I could go on…