Keeping it local is the easiest way to cut your plastic use, says Michael Dart of Darts Farm, one of the biggest independent farm shops in the South West
The world we live in with single-use packaging has effectively been created by fast food retailers and supermarkets – it never used to exist.
This whole packaging issue comes out of the globalisation of our food systems; supermarkets have driven packaging and plastic use in order to transport food across the world and to be able to barcode everything.
On the whole, we, as a society, buy things which are mass produced from the cheapest possible place on earth. These products then need to be tracked (via their barcode) from their place of production through the transport system, the distribution centre, onto lorries, into store and then out of store when they are scanned at the till.
Compare that to farm shops like ours where vegetables come from our fields: the guys go out with wooden crates and cut or dig up the veg (wonky or not, nothing is wasted, unlike veg for supermarkets which is discarded if it doesn’t meet the specifications) which then goes straight into the displays without the need for packaging.
Even if we buy strawberries from Crediton they are loose, and while they do have to come in a container it doesn’t need to have a top like it would if they were coming from across the world. Generally, the shorter the journey, the less packaging required.
It’s the same with most meats. Our butchery counter doesn’t have cuts wrapped in plastic because the butchers buy whole live animals and use traditional skills to cut them down into joints. Then the joints are put straight into the displays – again with no need for packaging and using the entire carcass.
It’s interesting that some supermarkets are getting rid of their deli and butchery counters as this will lead to even more packaging. However, it’s all about efficiency for them, even though it means a loss in skills and jobs.
For the same reason they don’t want loose displays of fruit and vegetables; when people take what they want, they also leave what they don’t want. The supermarkets want it quick and easy.
What’s the alternative to plastic? You could say that products could be wrapped in plant-based packaging instead, but then there’s a requirement for chemicals and fertiliser which can get into the water system. And when we have global population growth and a need for food, should we be using land to grow alternative packaging? It’s complex: neither is all right or all wrong.
For me the question about packaging is: ‘who picks up the cost to the environment?’ That isn’t priced into your purchase, so we all do – you could argue it comes out in taxation.
Society clearly knows now that there are problems and we are past the tipping point, however the good news is that consumers voting with their feet and supporting local specialist independents and farm shops can be really powerful – it all depends on whether you want your kids to pick up the tab.
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