If not now, then when?

Perhaps belatedly, we have completed an expansive update to our environmental assessment. This time, the mood among our co-owners is almost universally 'so, what are we going to do about it?'

In 2006, Riverford completed our first environmental impact assessment with Exeter University. Back then it was hard to get staff interested, and even harder to make the changes recommended.

But we did make changes: we abandoned our well-meaning but ill-judged use of degradable (not compostable) plastic, which research showed to be worse for the environment than conventional plastic.

We stopped buying produce from heated glasshouses, even if local; definitely the right decision, though not always popular with dogmatic advocates of local sourcing. We quit early experiments with biofuels; most are a con and bad for the environment. We became wary of paper and card, even if recycled; carbon footprints were as high or higher than plastic. There was also a lot of unglamorous stuff, like checking for refrigerant leaks. We made a formal commitment never to airfreight.

We even carbon emission labelled our boxes – but, after a year, I had not met a customer who was influenced by it. Given the amount of work, we dropped it, concluding that customers expected us to do the right thing on their behalf, not just give them the info to choose for themselves (arguably an abdication of corporate responsibility).

Personally I became a vocal advocate of unified curbside waste collection across the UK, increasingly frustrated that our politicians and so many companies were more interested in being seen to be doing the right thing, than in the hard graft of actually doing it.

Perhaps our biggest learning was that knee-jerk assumptions are too often wrong. Detailed research is the key to good policies, not quick, headline-grabbing claims about planting trees or forsaking plastic straws. Environmental issues are almost always complex, and the solutions nuanced. The project was certainly worthwhile, but nowhere near enough to stop the ice melting. We need to do so much more.

Since 2006, we have survived recession, failing websites, conversion to employee ownership, the ongoing pandemic – and now, perhaps belatedly, we have completed an expansive update to our environmental assessment. This time, the mood among our co-owners is almost universally “so, what are we going to do about it?” As Tracy Chapman so poignantly sang: “If not now, then when?” She also sang “Finally the tables are starting to turn…” I will write about our response to the new study next week.


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  1. I am self isolating due to age therefore unable to recycle lots of bags trays etc. as my local council will not accept and have to travel to recycling centre to do so. How can I get them to collect recyclable trays, bags etc from doorstep have bin bags full.

    1. Important point. Our council got recycling collection wrong. We have a small insert box for paper and card within a huge bin for tins and plastics. Many people have increasing volumes of recycling cardboard and paper due to the increase in online shopping. The plastics/tins bin is always half empty but we have excess card/paper as the collection is every two weeks. Crews refuse to take excess if not in the container and not everyone can get to recycling centres. We can purchase dedicated cardboard bins but at £70 each people will not buy. It seems local councils can’t get the basics right. which confounds a largely willing public.

    2. It really is shocking that we still don’t have a cohesive, unified UK wide recycling system. whilst there isn’t, it is easier for manufacturers to use any packaging they like and go for cheaper, less sustainable options.

    3. Wishing you wellness dippydee. Sorry to hear that they are not helping enable you to recycle – it is good you have made your local council aware of the issue. To lobby them and your local MP for a better, more joined up UK wide recycling system is a good start, but in terms of practical assistance there may be a neighbour or local environmental group who would be willing to help? If you are interested, Greenpeace https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/challenges/plastic-pollution/ and Friend of the earth https://friendsoftheearth.uk/latest/plastics both have petitions you can sign and lots more info on anti-plastic campaigning.

  2. I have read your amazing environmental assessment.
    What an achievement!
    Beautifully presented and illustrated, it really sets out your astonishing progress.
    And all you ask US to do is RETURN THE BOXES!
    (Is that so hard?)
    Congratulations to Riverford on work so far.

  3. I agree with Guy’s plea for a Unified Curbside Waste Collection across all Councils.
    But current irritation is with fancy cards, and wrapping paper, decorated with non-recyclable glitter, foil, and other decorative bitsanbobs. The card company I particularly like assures me that their decorated cards are all recyclable which I find difficult to believe, plus my Council orders us to put them in the general black bag waste. This year it will be email greetings and gifts wrapped in offcuts of material.

    1. I am recycling old Christmas cards into making new Christmas cards. So at least the glittery ones do not end up in my rubbish bin! Hopefully the recipient will do the same for next year.

    2. Upcycling is such a good way to keep old Christmas cards out of landfill and make great cards or gift tags from them instead.

    3. A very good point – there definitely does need to be more awareness around this on the run up to Christmas as many assume all wrapping paper can be recycled. There are now gift wraps labelled as fully recyclable available from high street retailers, so it is possible!

  4. As far as I am aware the various councils that remove people rubbish earm money from that rubbish (I don’t know how but it sems they do) which means that they get paid for removing your rubbish twice. Whilst I cannot find fault with that as long as the money is put to good use throughout the councils area I do feel a little sad that they do not remove certain rubbish – possibly the stuff they are not earning enough from, having committed to removal of rubbish nor do they supply any method to assist those who therefore must take unwanted items to the local tip themselves – not always possible for many and varied reasons. Of course not all councils act in this manner and there are many who would be offended to be classed in that list, but it still goes on and should be stopped – initially by protest to the council concerned of course but . . . . . .

    the Walrus

    1. One of the big issues is ‘recyclable’ UK rubbish being sold on to countries which do not have the capacity or facilities to recycle. The BBC series ‘War on plastic with Hugh and Anita’ shocked many viewers with their film of these heaps of plastic pollution overseas caused by us.


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