Welcome to the plastic gates

Recycling? Take it into your own hands.

Last month I mentioned, I confess in a slightly throwaway ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ sense, Riverford Dairy going over to packing the milk in poly-bottles. Three weeks and a missed recycling Friday later, our bulging clear recycling bags testify to the fact that it really isn’t a throwaway issue.

The old plastic lined tetra-pacs might have been difficult to delaminate and recycle but, somehow, a litre plastic container of no conceivable use to anyone other than my father (and even he has a finite use for tomato and broad bean seedlings) really brings home our pathetic, ‘beyond first base’, environmental credentials. Yes, they might be recyclable but into what? There is a finite use for carpet fibre, plastic pallets, garden furniture etc and, I’ll be more than happy to be proved wrong, new poly-bottles are still made from virgin hydro-carbon and without specialist separation from other plastics won’t be recycled into food packaging.

Years ago the above mentioned Great Patriarch and I spent a day at Exeter University at a seminar about anaerobic digestion (AD). Apologies if I’ve said this before, but my main memory was a speaker from a fledgling start-up AD autogas company in Somerset (probably long gone), talking about the benefits of using oil to make plastic, rather than fuel, recounting, apocryphally, the human race reaching the pearly gates and going on about this wonderful black stuff that flowed from the earth. Its uses were endless etc. ‘What did you do with it’, St Peter asked. ‘We burnt it’ was humanities reply.

I don’t think making fuel via AD, to free up oil for throwaway poly-bottles, was quite what Mr AD Somerset, or St Peter, had in mind and definitely wouldn’t have opened those pearly gates.

Before I bury myself in my customary deep hole and get banished to life with the Dothroki, I’d better point out that I’m definitely not having a pop at Riverford Dairy. They’re doing what they have to do. My point is that we live in a world where it’s incredibly difficult to buck the industrial blueprint laid down by the big operators. Sadly, localism has become a buzzword for xenophobic ‘outers’. Few would stand on a rostrum and shout that one of the biggest potential advantages of small scale, local, food production is that customers should be able to bring packaging back and have it refilled. Maybe not poly-bottles, but those ridiculously heavy duty 800ml soup containers have years of life. They’re dish-washable (to a bug killing 90C) and, unlike poly-bottles, sealable, stackable and, I wouldn’t mind betting, most of them go straight in the bin.

Over the years, I’ve made so many unfulfilled promises that I feel as though I’ve shot myself in the foot – again and again. Foisted by my own petard, you could say. The simple thing would be for us to buy the plastic pots back but, without investing in the equivalent of a hospital grade instrument sterilisation facility, we probably wouldn’t be allowed. Boris would blame Brussels but I say ‘stop blaming everyone else and get a grip’. Take it into your own hands; wash it, bring it back to the shop and fill it up – with meat, salads, hummus, porridge oats, little (admittedly) veg, olive oil, ecover  etc. Sadly, that’s the best we can offer at the moment, but show us that you have an appetite for it and I promise that we’ll look at rolling it out to other things like milk, yoghurt, apple juice etc. My brother Oliver has always wanted to offer a free spring water pump.

I’ve often said that my dream shop would be a ‘traiteur’ style shop where we cooked something different every day and customers came along with their saucepans, filled them up, and went home pretending they’d been slaving away over a hot stove all day. Sadly that’s never going to happen, mainly because of my cooking, but this could be the start.