Inspired by COP26 and ‘Mount Recyclemore’, a sculpture created to highlight the environmental threat of e-waste ahead of the G7 summit in June, I’ve been thinking about the 3 R’s of sustainability: reduce, reuse, recycle.
So here are some companies doing their bit in the food industry. Why the food industry, you might ask? Because I love food: it brings people together, and everyone has to eat. Plus, I wrote this at lunchtime.
Reuse – using things more than once in their original form
Of course, you wouldn’t want to reuse food that has already been eaten. But you can make use of food that would otherwise go to waste with the Too Good to Go app. You buy a Magic Bag from a participating cafe, restaurant or shop containing food left at the end of the day, so the contents of each bag is a surprise. I use it a lot and have enjoyed falafel, veg boxes and plenty of cake.
Recycle – converting waste materials into new products
According to WRAP’s Household Food and Drink Waste in the United Kingdom report, 24 million slices of bread are thrown away each day. But a few breweries have come up with a solution: brewing beer from surplus bread. Toast is one such company, and what’s more, they’re a Certified B Corporation, which shows they do business sustainably. Personally, I’m a big fan of their pale ale but have enjoyed all their beers I’ve tried.
After a year of Zoom events and meetings, I’ll admit I was a little unsure how the two-day online course would go. But I needn’t have worried. It was the best online event I’ve attended: there were plenty of comfort breaks, and each session was followed by a Q&A and then a discussion in small groups. Sometimes with virtual events, I struggle with things going in one ear and out the other, but I found that being able to chat things through really helped me retain the information – which was good as there was a lot of it! It also gave me the chance to meet lots of different people, all of whom were passionate about tackling the climate emergency. Everyone brought their own knowledge, experience and interests to the table.
Day one focused on all the problems we face and possible solutions based on the Zero Carbon Britain report. It’s well worth a read, and there’s even a summary version. The report relies solely on existing technologies and explores renewable energies, energy use, diet and land use. If I’m honest, I felt a bit down coming away from day one and rather powerless. Despite immense problems and viable solutions, it seemed like nothing was being done. Day two put paid to that feeling with inspiring examples of people and communities working for a better future.
It was an almost overwhelming amount of information, but here are some of the key points that resonated with me most.
Our lives have to change, but not drastically
Of course, big changes are needed to rise to the climate emergency. But the solutions suggested by the Centre for Alternative Technology aren’t all that drastic for individuals. Not everybody has to go vegan. Just reduce the amount of meat and dairy they eat and the amount of food they waste. Also, we need to eat more food from the UK. All sensible solutions that everyone can get on board with. And by combining environmental justice with social justice, we can make sure everyone can afford these changes as part of a just transition.
We’ve actively gone backwards
I was surprised to see how much better public transport used to be. Trams used to run through many city centres, including Bristol where I live, but they were removed to make way for cars. Also, the train network used to serve far more of the country than our current network. Following the Beeching Report in 1963, miles upon miles of track were closed. These maps clearly show the difference.
When we see evidence of positive change, we have to share it, as people need to imagine something to make it happen. I came away from the course feeling empowered and ready to share my knowledge with others. My plan now is to share positive news and climate solutions via my blog to normalise them and help build a movement for change. And also learn things along the way.
It’s got me thinking a lot about you. And about all the good times we’ve shared. You’ve always been there to take me where I need to go or at the very least most of the way. So I’m just writing to say thank you.
You’ve seen me grow up, through school, college and university, including a year abroad in Paris and back again. Then commuting in London for a year — let’s promise to never do that again — before heading back to France again. And now, Bristol.
You’ve taken me to see family and friends, new areas, cities and countries.
Interailing with you from the UK to Norway was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had, and you were there every step of the way — I still can’t get over the fact we went on a ferry together!
I love that you give me time to think and daydream, looking out the window as the landscape whizzes by. Or listen to music. Or catch up on a podcast. Or even get a bit of work done! You don’t judge. You just let me be me and take me where I need to be.
Sure, we’ve had bad times too.
I’ve been late, and you’ve got tired of waiting. But you’ve always come around again.
And sometimes, you can be so stubborn, digging your heels in and refusing to move even when we’ve got somewhere to be.
Like any relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs. But we’re in it for the long run, in sickness and health, as they say.
Without you, I would definitely be worse off, so thank you. For everything.
And transforming hides into leather is just as problematic. It is incredibly water-intensive and uses a high concentration of harmful chemicals, with catastrophic consequences for workers’ health, biodiversity and soil.
Is vegan leather the answer?
Cruelty-free alternatives to fur and leather are often made from plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). As well as supporting the oil industry, these plastics will not biodegrade at the end of their life cycle. Instead, they will likely contaminate their surroundings with microplastics as they degrade, damaging wildlife and marine life, harming the animals that vegan consumers want to protect.
As a result, demand for plant-based leather has increased. Consumers have power, you see! Companies are now experimenting with a whole range of different natural materials, including cork, apple, mushrooms and pineapple. Many of these are by-products of other industries, such as fruit, cider, wine and juice. Great right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the whole picture. Some plant-based leathers add a thin layer of PU to act as a binding agent, meaning they are not fully biodegradable.
So we can’t win?
Don’t worry. It’s not all doom and gloom.
It’s just that nothing’s perfect.
Piñatex, a pineapple leather, for example, uses a water-based PU resin. As it stands, 13 million tonnes of pineapple leaf waste are produced annually and are burned or left to rot, emitting methane. This plant-based leather is therefore using a by-product of the existing agriculture industry, which would otherwise be wasted. Ananas Anam, the company that manufactures Piñatex leather, is a certified B Corporation so meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. As for the PU resin, it is compliant with the EU REACH regulation to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.
And eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I said some plant-based leathers have a thin layer of PU. An example of one that doesn’t is Mirum, a plant-based leather that Allbirds recently invested in. It is made from a combination of vegetable oil, natural rubber and other bio-inputs. We can be optimistic about the future as this new material is setting a high bar for the rest of the vegan leather industry.
How you can make a difference
It’s up to consumers to make their own choices and do their research to ensure that products reflect their values. Unfortunately, this may involve trade-offs, like, for example, prioritising animal welfare over plastic pollution. But we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. By voting with your wallet (whether it’s made of real or vegan leather), you can enact change.
In order to make such trade-offs, consumers need to be able to make conscious choices. Brands and industries need to be as transparent as possible, providing information on all aspects of their products’ life cycles.
Putting the onus on the consumer is unsustainable. We need brands to be fully transparent, so we know exactly what our purchases are and aren’t supporting. With all the info provided on the label, consumers would be able to make conscious choices and play their part in raising standards in a wide range of industries.
And, hopefully, one day, we won’t have to make trade-offs at all!
The obvious path is to degrade into tiny microplastics and enter the food chain, ending up in fish and humans and sharing your chemical additives with them. But there are other, more righteous paths available to you, with companies working on innovative ways to extract microplastics from the oceans, ranging from magnets to nets to bottom feeders.
But fingers crossed you’ll be rescued before you degrade. One day you’re bobbing about in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic Ocean, minding your own business. The next, you’ve been scooped up, turned into fibres, combined with organic cotton and made into a t-shirt or sweater. Each piece of clothing made by French startup Ankore uses 20 plastic bottles recovered from the sea, so don’t worry, you’ll be among friends. The company also embraces the circular economy. So once the sweater or t-shirt you’ve been made into wears out, you’ll be sent back and recycled, meaning you’ll live on almost indefinitely.
How about if you’re saved before you make it into a river in the first place?
There you are, just lying on the floor.
Or so you thought.
Today’s your lucky day! A user of the Planet Patrol app has spotted you. Now you’ll be recorded and recycled properly, helping you find the right direction in life again.
Or maybe you weren’t tossed away after all.
In Kenya, companies have to pay to dispose of their plastic waste, which has led to a colossal plastic pollution problem. If you find yourself here, try not to contribute to it. Instead, go with Gjenge Makers. They take away plastic waste for free and mix it with sand to make building products. As a paving block, you will contribute positively to society for many years to come.
There’s no two ways about it. Plastic pollution is a major global problem. As a plastic bottle, you have to make the right life choices. Don’t end up as harmful microplastics. Instead, be the best version of yourself by getting involved with one of the many companies offering ingenious solutions to tackle plastic pollution.
Or maybe, just maybe, you were never a plastic bottle at all…