You know plastics are out of hand when your wooden shelves are plastic veneer, your "biodegradable" cup is packed with melamine, your supermarket vegetables sit in plastic straight jackets, your toothpaste oozes polyethylene microbeads, your sausages are cased in nylon, your favourite team plays on a polypropylene pitch, while you comb your polyester hair with a plastic comb paid for with a polymer £5 banknote.
Shared Earth is working hard to rid itself of plastics, both in its products we sell and in the packaging that those products are shipped in but isnít easy and donít let anyone fool you to believing that it is. While we all welcome the fact that even the right-wing press are now calling for an end to the plastic tide that floods our lives, the truth is that there that talk is cheap. Greenwashing is easy and everyone is at it.
For example, how can we rid ourselves of the billions of plastic bottles that gather in our bathrooms and lunch boxes? In my familyís bathroom there are 53 plastic bottles. Fifty-three! OK I have three daughters but letís be honest, boys too are interested in grooming and smelling good.
(Surfing in Bali photo: Zak Noyle)
Shared Earth is working with our suppliers in Thailand and India to bring you Fair Trade solid shampoo bars. If we switched to solid shampoo bars we could reduce the total number of plastic bottles in my familyís bathroom to under thirty. Itís not great but it is progress and I am hopeful that one of our suppliers, in Thailand, will soon have risen to the challenge.
On the subject of soap, many of the soaps we can buy come wrapped in cling film. What thatís all about? Cling film keeps moisture out and stops the soap bars fragmenting, but there are alternatives. We are testing various bio-plastic cling films that, allegedly, biodegrade in the compost. We have asked our suppliers to work with us. If the alternative material works then that is another fossil-fuel derived plastic banned from Shared Earth.
(Ordinary v bio cling film - can you tell the difference?)
We are exploring plant-based biodegradable cellophanes Ė the material our greetings cards are wrapped in Ė and oxo-biodegradable plastics. (Oxo-biodegradable plastics contain enzymes that enable oxidation, making it easier for bacteria to Ďeatí the discarded plastic and reduce it to its constituent parts.)
The Bali experiment
Every year many thousands of products shipped to us from Bali. Almost everything is individually wrapped in plastic.
Among other reasons, it is to protect handmade products - drums, dreamcatchers, puppets and paper fans, etc. - from mould. If you simply wrap products in paper you cannot guarantee that they wonít suffer moisture damage during their six-week journey by sea to the UK. New products with surface blooms of mould are worthless.
Step up a bioplastic biodegradable bag producer in Bali. They make Ďplasticí bags from cassava starch. Are these bags capable of protecting our products from humidity? We will soon know the answer to that because in a few daysí time two very special test packages will join the rest of a shipment that is leaving Bali. In six weeks these packages will arrive here in York. Along with the other tests we are carrying out, these special packages, containing some of our favourite Balinese products, will confirm whether bio-plastic bags are up to the job of protecting goods in transit. If the tests are successful we will in a few months be cheering the removal of many thousands of plastic bags from our operations.
And we are not just talking Bali. On our recent trip to India we spoke with all our Indian suppliers too. We are working with our suppliers in Africa. One irony is that last September Kenya banned single-use plastic bags from the country, imposing heavy fines on anyone caught using them. So Kenya is way ahead of the UK. But we still need goods to ship safely so we are all actively working with every supplier in every country to remove plastic packaging from our operations by identifying viable and practical alternatives.
What about the products themselves, I hear you ask. We are busy on this issue as well, as you can find out in my next blog.