Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The eco guide to packaging

Make your zero tolerance stance on unecessary packaging known: it's the best way to stop it.

In the mid-noughties my inbox was full of images of shrinkwrapped fruit and veg: readers were incensed that supermarkets wrapped coconuts (which famously provide their own husks) with layers of non-recyclable film. The debate has been repackaged for a new generation. Twitter is awash with examples of idiotic packaging from e-tailers, such as one bottle of nail varnish and a cat’s toy, each sent in a big box.

We accumulate 200kg of packaging materials a year per person, adding up to almost 13m tonnes entering the UK waste stream. Even if you drag your cardboard to the recycling plant, you’re still complicit in a system that wastes important resources on a single-use box. It’s also cheaper to have one size of box that fits neatly into a truck. Logistics companies don’t get charged for shipping air, creating more carbon emissions and traffic. The protective packaging industry that makes crumpled paper and inflatable plastic pockets is a real winner, projected to be worth $35bn by 2020.

If you want to do something practical, report outrageous over-packaging (where the product takes up less than 10% of the volume of the packaging) to your local trading standards officer. A former officer tells me that they’re particularly hot on the issue of shipping air in huge, unnecessary boxes, because part of their mandate is to keep delivery traffic to a minimum.

Amazon, though often named and shamed, seems keen to hear reports of packaging frustration and is working with German researchers to make its deliveries eco-friendly.

In the past the packaging industry avoided closer control by arguing that lavish packaging was demanded by the consumer. But it makes it harder for the industry to use this defence if we all continue to Instagram our discontent.

The big picture: China’s air quality red alerts

From Xian, home to the terracotta warriors, to Beijing and Harbin in the northeast, Chinese authorities have been forced to issue red alerts on air quality. When the air quality in parts of Beijing exceeded 500 on the pollution index (residents are encouraged to stay indoors at more than 300) half of all vehicles were removed from the roads and some manufacturing plants were closed. But the experts were clear: temporary measures won’t get rid of the smog. China needs to address its dependency on coal-fired power stations.

Well dressed: Dress 4 Our Time

It’s rare that there’s a piece of fashion which is designed not to influence what you buy but to shift the way you think. It’s even rarer to find a piece created to promote the discussion of climate science. But that’s Helen Storey for you. Learning that we consume 30% more resources each year than can be replenished, the designer decided that all her work would be on communicating today’s urgent issues rather than producing ever more collections. Dress 4 Our Time is her latest collaboration with climate scientists and her supporters the University of the Arts London. Made from a UN emergency relief tent abandoned in Syria, the ‘digital couture’ dress has climate data projected on to it. Having recently returned from the UN climate talks, it will be touring UK locations in the New Year. If you don’t get to see the dress in person, don’t miss the elegiac short film at dress4ourtime.org