This week we packed our first zero packaging veg box: no punnets, bags, nets or even bands, be they plastic, paper or rubber. Few people complain about paper, but our research suggests that it often has a higher carbon footprint than plastic, so we have gone the whole hog and ditched the lot.
Lack of protection will mean no delicate leafy greens such as spinach or salad leaves (hardier greens and lettuces like Cos and Little Gems should be okay), and no cherry tomatoes or mushrooms, so I am guessing sales will be low. But maybe you will prove me wrong. We made several attempts to offer a 100 per cent UK veg box, but it never amounted to more than one per cent of box sales – until recently. It’s now doing much better at seven per cent. Perhaps acceptance is growing that 'one planet living' requires compromise.
So, is this new box just a grandstanding gesture? Sometimes you need a jolt to shake you out of a rut; to quote Walt Whitman, you need to “re-examine all that you have been told and dismiss that which insults your soul.”
Putting perishable produce, which will be gone in a week, into a plastic punnet which will last a lifetime really should insult our souls. Big, disruptive ideas normally come from the freaks on the fringe, away from the straitjacket rationalisation of the norm. Revolutions are rare; the biggest impact of peripheral change is in moving the centre just a little.
The small percentage of vocal vegans have led far more of us to consider and reduce our meat consumption. Just three per cent of land being farmed organically in the UK has led to debate about pesticide use, better animal welfare and soil management on the other 97 per cent.
Likewise, I suspect the greatest impact of the new box will be in forcing us to take a fresh look at the packaging in our other boxes, and to consider novel solutions previously thought too wacky to investigate. We might even come up with ideas that those closer to the centre may use.
In the rest of our boxes, we continue to remove packaging; this January, an independent study found that Riverford veg boxes contain 82 per cent less plastic than the equivalent organic veg from 7 major supermarkets. And by December, all our fruit and veg will be 100 per cent plastic free, replaced with home compostable plant-based cellulose. This is proving more challenging than we envisioned, but we are still on course to succeed.
The zero packaging organic veg box is available to order now at riverford.co.uk.