The carbon footprint of an orange set me thinking last week. Tesco’s have calculated that a Jaffa orange has a footprint of 130g CO2 (MRW 12/3/10). How is this interesting? Well in itself not particularly, but what was interesting I thought, was that 80% of the footprint came from simply growing the fruit.
Just 2% came from the packaging. Time and time again packaging is demonstrated to be a very small component of a product’s overall carbon footprint and yet we keep focusing on it.
I understand that “Eat fewer oranges” is a much harder political message than declaring war on “over-packaging” or banning carrier bags!
But we mustn’t fool ourselves. Banning carrier bags will hardly make a scrap of difference to the environment and the idea that retailers routinely over-package goods is ridiculous.
It is human nature to seek an easy way out, a technological quick fix that will avoid the need for any behavioural change. A few years ago photo-degradable carrier bags were a solution. They would magically disappear when left in sunlight. This of course completely ignored the fact that bags would be buried in deep, dark landfills and if recycled would contaminate normal polythene. Now they are exposed (DEFRA report EV0422 March 2010) as bad for the environment and bad for recycling.
Food miles were last year’s thing. Surely it’s obvious that English tomatoes are better than Spanish ones trucked across Europe? Well no actually. English greenhouses have supplemental gas heating, Spanish ones don’t. Surely it’s obvious that green beans shouldn’t be flown in from Kenya? Well no, it keeps thousands of African farmers in work and provides Kenya with a vital source of foreign exchange.
When I first started in the industry there was a very simple message:
Reduce - Reuse - Recycle.
This surely is still the key message that we should be focusing on. When you stray outside of it messages become confused, conflicting evidence emerges and the risk is that the public throw up their hands and give up.
That’s why I love WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign. It’s simple and focuses on Reduce. It’s not “Eat fewer oranges,” but “Buy fewer oranges”. This has a far bigger impact than focusing on packaging and transport.
Reuse is an area that receives too little attention. It’s more product specific, it can mess up supply chains and introduces quality control problems. But reusing a product just once has the potential to halve its carbon footprint.
We should all be thinking about innovative ideas to reuse products (1001 uses for a carrier bag?).
Recycle. We are back on more familiar territory. It’s all about weight-based targets. Just get it out of the black bags and we claim our credits.
But remember our orange. After production, waste disposal at 8% was the second largest number. This is true of many products. Our decisions on recycling routes are important and have real environmental impacts.
Let’s take glass. Commingled glass recycling is a con isn’t it? It isn’t recycling at all, it’s stopping glass from going from one hole in the ground (landfill), and rather trucking it miles to throw it in another hole (construction site aggregate). It’s pretend recycling, it’s a sham. I am amazed the Daily Mail hasn’t picked up on it!
Commingled recycling is another technological fix that seeks to avoid behaviour change. It will be exposed in the end for what it is.
My plea is that we keep our messages to the public simple, focusing on the 4R’s
Reduce - Reuse - Real Recycle.
All this from an orange!