Aren't there more important things to do than fight a war on plastic? 15/07/2019, Health & Lifestyle
It’s an absolute truth - we need to stop plastic getting into our oceans. We also need to reuse and recycle it here in the UK properly and the rest of the world needs to do the same. The issue is utterly appalling: more plastic than fish, in weight terms, is forecast to be dumped in the sea by the middle of this century. In addition, the UK and other developed countries have been dumping their waste on developing countries thousands of miles away, rather than dealing with it themselves. The government and retailers need to step up to sort this out. We have. Since 2014 fresh-range has been avoiding the use of plastic packaging on food unless it’s absolutely necessary. We’ve also promoted the use of reusable and recyclable outer packaging with our wool insulated boxes. We’ve always avoided plastic wrap on most of our fruit and veg. We’ve introduced glass milk bottles as an option for customers too.
All of these measures are of high importance; however, it is of concern that the issue around plastic could be a distraction. Thanks to Sir David Attenborough and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s excellent documentaries on the BBC, it appears thousands in the UK are declaring a war on plastics. But, we have bigger issues to face when it comes to how we source our food and the role of supermarkets in supplying it to us. The unabating rise in global greenhouse gas emissions is now an immediate existential threat to all life on earth. It’s an issue that affects all living species on our planet. Not only in the sea but all land animals and mammals, including humans. Even the current government, from the depths of their own political crises, have finally declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. Whilst the war on plastic is important, shouldn’t the accelerating greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of biodiversity come higher on the list of priorities?
There is a relatively common consensus that as much as 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated by food. This means, on average, nearly 1 in 3 tons of carbon you generate is as a result of what you choose to eat. It’s contributing to climate change more than all forms of air, sea, road and rail transport, heating and air conditioning combined. Put more positively, it’s the single biggest opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint. There are thousands of highly conscientious people radically reducing their plastic use and forgoing flights abroad. How many of us are aware that buying food at the supermarket is a far bigger contributor to devastating climate change? Perhaps this is partly because it is so complicated trying to compare the relative carbon footprints of putting a banana in your trolley versus a tray of minced beef. It’s a hugely complex picture and sadly, we’re many years away from supermarkets being able to communicate this kind of data on the label of the food they sell. In 2019, we’re still trying to get a law in place that ensures all ingredients are listed on the label of just a sandwich!
In addition to the greenhouse gas issue, we also face a crisis of biodiversity. The facts are clear (and Sir David has done a great job of communicating them) - we are in the midst of a mass extinction. Every single day, hundreds of species are becoming extinct across the world – that’s way above any natural extinction rate calculation. There are many native species right here in the UK that have seen reductions in numbers of more than 90% in the past few decades, such as hedgehogs, cuckoos, butterflies and, perhaps most worryingly, certain species of bees. Life on Earth as we know it relies on an intricate balance of many species, each dependent on the existence of the other species. If we wipe out one, another is threatened – nature’s food chains matter. The undeniable truth is that in our clamour for cheaper and cheaper food the majority of farming in this country has been forced into more and more intensive methods. The impact of forcing an unnatural process on the soil, crops and animals is that we devastate the countryside and the natural world we need to live in harmony with. We are at the point where we’ve weakened the soil’s ability to act as a carbon sink. We’ve rendered many wild species critically endangered or extinct. We’re at the point where we risk bringing the whole house tumbling down.
So, we want to do all that we can to find solutions to the biggest issue of our times. Here’s a list of 10 things we’re doing at fresh-range to address the carbon and biodiversity crisis. Please get in touch and tell us what we can do better or ask us how we can help you to reduce your food shopping carbon footprint.
10 things we’re doing to address our Climate and Biodiversity Crisis:
1. We have a company purpose and values to address the climate and biodiversity crisis. Every team member at fresh-range is recruited and measured on the values of commitment, honesty, cooperation and innovation. Our purpose of developing food security for generations to come is supported by our values (https://www.fresh-range.com/about/mission) to change food supply for good when it comes to mitigating climate change and restoring biodiversity.
2. We are developing the technology to support short food supply chain transparency. We are dedicated to bringing short, fast, light supply chains to life across all sectors – home delivery, public sector and private catering. Not only does this ensure lower food miles, short supply chains are also a prerequisite to being transparent about where food is from and how it was made.This enables choices to be made on the production methods of the food in the first place. We enable even the smallest - often the most carbon efficient - growers to supply all sectors because fresh-range’s technology can flex to the needs of the producer.
3. We’re enabling positive government policy to make the changes needed. Our work with Cabinet Office Advisors, DEFRA and other government departments to improve the transparency around food supply chains in the public sector is resulting in truly exciting developments. Fresh-range technology is enabling the public sector to source produce with in a transparent way – something that’s often missing in conventional mass supply chains. It gives the public sector the opportunity to lead the way on sourcing food with a superior footprint that addresses the environmental challenges we face.
4. We’re certified organic with the Soil Association. Healthy soil farmed in the right way enables carbon sequestration. We promote and encourage organic fruit and vegetables to our customers. We do this by creating shorter supply chains on organic produce which makes it more affordable and accessible to everybody. And, we communicate the difference this makes to soil health and therefore carbon sequestration.
5. We’re reducing food waste. Our short supply chain model avoids much of the stocking and storage of fresh produce associated with mass supply chains. It’s this flawed model that can lead to so much waste. Wherever possible, our customers choose their produce and our producers pick to order. We’ve also introduced our catering kitchen customers to technology that enables them to measure their kitchen waste and bring food waste down by as much as half. Elimination of food waste is one of the first most impactful things you can do to bring down your food carbon footprint.
6. We source ethically produced products across all categories. We scrutinise our categories to minimise the impact on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions. Most of our store cupboard products are ethically sourced and come with organic certification. Right now, we’re working on launching a new range of cleaning products that have a lower ecological footprint than existing leading brands yet are also highly effective.
7. We use ecologically optimal packaging. We’ve eliminated most plastic packaging wherever possible and we insist that customers return outer packaging so that we can reuse it several times. For our home deliveries, we have always used sustainable sheep’s wool insulation to keep food cool and in optimum condition.
8. We are supporting Farm Wilder’s development and UK launch – an initiative to support farmers who have dedicated their farm to nurturing endangered biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Customers who eat meat can therefore choose a product that is part of the solution when it comes to the storing of carbon in soils and restoring endangered native species in the UK.
9. We’ve delivered meaningful reductions in carbon emissions via innovation in food deliveries – in a recent study we demonstrated a 10 metric ton annual reduction in carbon emissions by changing the way food was delivered to a group of catering kitchens for a public sector client.
10. We lead and support many climate conscious initiatives to address the crisis: We support Sustainabubbles – an initiative that empowers busy working people to make vital changes to their lifestyle when it comes to their carbon footprint. We also support The Travelling Kitchen who are teaching young people to cook healthily using locally sourced ethical produce. We have held several conferences on sustainable food procurement in the public sector. We’re also proud to have co-founded a National Advisory Board for Dynamic Food Procurement in order to advise food buyers, producers and policy makers on how short, transparent food supply chains can empower positive buying decisions. You may have also seen our exhibitions at several of the Bristol Food Connections festivals where we highlight the major link between climate change and food & farming practices. We’re supporters of the Pasture Fed Livestock Association and source meat and dairy from farms that commit to 100% grass fed livestock. Not only do 100% pasture fed native animals emit less methane, they can contribute to a mixed farming approach with significant soil sequestration of carbon. Farming with 100% pasture fed animals avoids the need for feeds to be shipped from overseas. And, this also has a potentially significant climate change mitigating impact because growing feeds for animals overseas has been well documented to be a contributor to global deforestation.
Photo Credit: New MacDonald's Farm - free range eggs from organically fed hens - coming soon to fresh-range