Saving the planet, one Waitrose at a time

Waitrose will allow customers to fill up their own containers with products.
Waitrose will allow customers to fill up their own containers with products.
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How much food did you waste last year? When you think about that burnt slice of toast or the odd mouldy orange it might not seem that much.

However according to Zero Waste Scotland, we Scots collectively bin almost a million tonnes of stuff that should simply never be thrown out.

The solution is to only buy what we really need but that is made really difficult when supermarkets want to sell us everything packaged to within an inch of its shelf life. This week Waitrose responded to that with a pioneering new scheme being tested at its Oxford store. It is offering the customers the chance to buy food and drink that is completely free of packaging. Instead shoppers will be able to fill their own containers with a range of products from special dispensers, enjoying price reductions in the process.

Waitrose hope it will cut food waste as well as eliminating unnecessary packaging. In the big scheme of things, it is a drop in the ocean. Waitrose has just 5% of the UK grocery market and their customers are likely to be the most receptive anyway when it comes to environmental issues. However it does send out a message. Anyone who has had to extract four pears from packaging similar to what is used to move tiny babies around neo-natal care units will be encouraged by that it doesn’t need to be that way.

There really is no excuse for swathing natural produce in something so unnatural and harmful to the plant. That said, we are still only reaching those awake enough to be woke. In West Yorkshire a local council recently seized 1,300 bins from residents who, despite repeated warnings, have refused to comply with recycling rules. Last week on the M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow I watched a man throw a burger box and milk shake carton out of a moving car. Overtaking Scotland’s number one idiot I saw two kids sitting in the back of the car. What planet do these people live on? Crucially, they’d better get used to one with soaring temperatures, rising seas and climate catastrophes if they keep on living the same selfish way. Self dispensers of organic muesli won’t stop the world melting but a mix of push and pull factors are needed to bring about the change needed. So good on Waitrose for raising the bar and showing what is possible. With that kind of encouragement the rest of us might think twice about what we buy and how we buy it.

As for the rubbish refuseniks who think saving the planet is someone else’s responsibility, we need to force them onside. Compulsory viewing of Blue Planet would be a good place to start as it all comes down to education but with the carrot comes the stick. Individuals who refuse to recycle and businesses that fail to cut waste and packaging should pay the price for that. For firms that could be specific environmental taxes levelled on the highest polluters and for people it might mean enforceable council tax surcharges if you repeatedly ignore your responsibilities.

Margaret Thatcher was wrong. There is such a thing as society and saving the planet requires us all to play a part, not just virtuous shoppers in Waitrose.