Blog Posts

An imaginary letter to Waitrose because you never know who might be reading…

K Kuprat

Dear Ben, Rupert and Wim

I’d like you to meet a long-standing, regular customer of Waitrose in a rapidly-changing consumer world…

I’m writing to you because I recently took part in a Marine Conservation Society challenge to give up buying single-use plastics for a month. The reasons for this were manifold and based on the information that an estimated lorry-load of plastics is entering our oceans every minute; that, unchecked, this could mean more plastic in our seas by 2050 than fish and further, that plastic doesn’t degrade and gets eaten by a large quantity of marine life and ultimately by us with potentially toxic results.

The immediate effect of this challenge was depressing. From spending a privileged twenty minutes a week online doing my weekly shop, I began spending on average two days + a week visiting fishmongers, butchers, small grocers and cheesemongers in order to gather my shopping without accruing plastic to go with it. This was partially due to the fact that I couldn’t buy two-thirds of my usual shop from Waitrose anymore because of the high level of non-recyclable plastic packaging on most of the products.

Many conversations along the way showed up a lot of people who also wanted a lot less non-recyclable packaging on their shop but didn’t have the time to do much about it and felt overwhelmed by the supermarket status quo.

It’s left me with the realisation that this is an important issue and that I can make a lot of personal changes.  However, I also really need your help if I’m to be an ongoing Waitrose customer because within the existing infrastructure we just keep generating waste.

As far as I can establish, you are the primary influencers in product decision making at Waitrose. I would like to ask you to consider some of the following requests:

  1. Some toilet roll available either loose or in recyclable packaging
  2. Signage around the fresh vegetable section encouraging customers to bring or re-use their own small bags for this produce
  3. Some salad options in recyclable wrap – there are currently none that I could see
  4. More loose vegetables on offer
  5. Paper tags (or a better tagging solution) replacing plastic tags and stickers on individual fruit and vegetables and other items
  6. Organic butters available in paper packaging
  7. The removal of unnecessary plastic wrap on certain products like candles and cucumbers
  8. More recyclable plastic packaging on meat, fish, cheese, nuts, seeds and frozen vegetables.
  9. Giving people the option to use their own containers for deli counter products. (Apparently not an option at Edinburgh Morningside Branch or according to your customer care team online.)
  10. The replacement of non-recyclable rip-off lids with biodegradable cling film
  11. Overall non-recyclable plastic packaging on hundreds of products replaced with the recyclable kind. (A repeat of point 8 really but bigger…)
  12. The reduction of unnecessary films in product containers e.g. little windows in the cardboard, extra covers on tea boxes, extra covers on cereals within boxes and the biggest bug-bear of all, plastic security seals around glass jars. Please replace the latter with paper tag extensions from the existing labels on your own brand products.
  13. Pasta in recyclable packaging
  14. Offer an ethically packaged toothpaste brand
  15. Offer cleaning materials that are made from recyclable materials
  16. Offer some refillable options e.g. Ecover but also on items like oil, vinegars and shampoos.
  17. Flowers wrapped in recyclable paper or plastic as alternative to existing wrap
  18. Greeting cards in compostable wrap

This is not an exhaustive list but you get the gist. I would also ask that you convey this to your suppliers where applicable. It would certainly up their environmental credentials.

I understand all this is complicated and there are many influencing factors in how things get packaged. I also appreciate that you’ll be aware of what I’m writing about and I want to acknowledge how much Waitrose does already in this sphere. In particular, I’ve noticed and thank you for the following:

  1. Some loose fruit and vegetables
  2. Recycling information clearly marked on many plastic containers
  3. The availability of biodegradable cling film
  4. The availability of bamboo toothbrushes
  5. The Natracare products available
  6. That there are a version of KeepCups for sale by the coffee machine
  7. That you can now buy paper-based cotton wool buds
  8. That some frozen products are contained in cardboard
  9. A feta cheese provided in a recyclable plastic container
  10. Fresh, unpackaged bread

This list isn’t exhaustive either but you get the gist…

Returning to the reason for writing this letter, I’d like to help stem the plastic flow and I’d like your influential help given your existing commitment to ‘treading lightly.’ If my suggestions are not feasible, I’d be really interested to know what is.

And perhaps, it’s worth saying that these are issues are unlikely to go away now so for Waitrose to up its champion-status of this movement is enlightened and essential….

And very, very groovy….

Plastic bags, Waitrose and the entente cordiale…

K Kuprat

I’ve now developed a bit of a thing about plastic bags. I’ve started to view them as a kind of amoebic life-form that keep trying to attach themselves to me when I’m not looking. They turn up in unexpected places. They are surprisingly resistant to mass culls. And they breed…

So I’ve had a bit of an internal stand-off with Waitrose on their home delivery policy to tenement flats in Edinburgh, which insists very politely that if you live in one, you have to order plastic bags for your delivery and pay for them too. (I know they take back the old ones to recycle but one or two always escape detection and migrate to lead a free roaming existence under the fridge or the sofa.)

So I just stopped ordering the plastic bags and didn’t pay for them. And decided to see what would happen next.

This evoked a few responses over the weeks. Sometimes, they ignored this and just served up the entire shop in plastic bags anyway and sometimes they brought it up in large plastic crates, plastic bag-free, bearing facial expressions that were a little hard to read. At other times, it was a hybrid of the two – crates with just some of the groceries in plastic bags…

Either way, everyone stayed friendly, polite and steadfastly silent on the matter.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, a driver takes the bull by the proverbial horns. In a nutshell, he wants me to order the bags. For them, it’s a health and safety issue – they can’t see their toes over the crates etc. I stand there feeling slightly worried.

My intention is to respond with something compelling about ocean plastic statistics and some kind of environmental high ground but in the moment I just blurt out, ‘But I hate plastic bags!’ Or something similar. Short anyway, and not elegant.

He is understanding! He suggests a solution. If I request it in my future deliveries, the drivers will buzz the bell. I can come down with my own bags. We transfer the shop into them and all parties will thus be satisfied. I am sceptical. Does he mean it?

So last week I put it to the test. It unfolded precisely as planned. A compromise has been reached. No more plastic bags for me. Happy health and safety toes for him. I think we may even have beamed at each other at the end.

Waitrose driver and customer in perfect harmony….

Of such small victories life is made.

Sweating for the Cause…

K Kuprat

Inspired, educated and slightly intimidated by this jam-packed-to-the-brim-with-plastic-resourcefulness blogger at www.pfree.co.uk, I blunder once again into the arena that is homemade deodorant.

I have been so culturally conditioned not to perspire that it’s difficult to wean myself off the standard plastic-entombed DO product. Not dwelling too much longer on how fragrant things could get, I put together a recipe for Bergamot & Mint Deodorant. (Courtesy of ‘Cook, Brew and Blend your own Herbs’ by Neal’s Yard Remedies.)

Essentially, this involves putting the following ingredients into a sterilised, glass spray bottle and giving everything a good shake:

1 tsp vegetable glycerin

2.5 tbsp witch hazel

2.5 tbsp lavender water

10 drops bergamot essential oil

8 drops grapefruit essential oil

7 drops lemon essential oil

4 drops peppermint essential oil

1 drop cypress essential oil

 

It’s quite zingy.

Establishing how effective it is will probably come down to standing next to someone on a hot day and watching their expression quite closely for a while…

The Plastic Challenge concludes. Or does it?

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The official challenge is over and it’s time to take a little stock…

It’s been very time consuming, on many levels.  The phrase ‘Obsessive Plastic Disorder’ was coined by my sister at some juncture along the way…this is what you get for a living with a humorous psychotherapist…

Personal highlights and achievable achievements included salad on every window sill; ordering an organic local vegetable box delivery; granting a permanent home in my bag to a KeepCup and a snazzy refillable water bottle; making houmous, soap, deodorant, oatcakes and sourdough bread (more on that in due course…); making a plastic bottle top box collection to go to Lush for recycling; the discovery of paper cotton wool buds and plant-based washing up sponges; the friendly cooperation of local fishmongers, butchers, grocers and the New Leaf in Marchmont for its many loose produce options – I salute you! Joining the Marine Conservation Society as my own personal carbon off-setting strategy. The eventual discovery of feta at Waitrose in a recyclable plastic container – that was a jump up and down in the aisle moment. Biodegradable foil and clingwrap; compostable food waste bags from the Council at a £1 – buy at your local library (!) And general plastic awareness truly raised. And the many conversations and insights gleaned at home and out and about. There are a lot of people who care about this stuff.

Low-lights and going-slowly-nowhere moments included the behemoth of toothpaste packaging communications with the Council and various suppliers; salad on every window sill does induce the odd Oliver Twist moment (‘Please Sir, can I have some more?) and isn’t actually enough for three people; getting plastic hijacked at unexpected moments, for example, the plastic spoon under the ice-cream lid at the cinema. (When did that stop being wooden?) And peering into the underside of the olive oil bottle lid – ‘Er, is this plastic I see before me?!) The conveyor belt of apparent unsolvables from butter wraps to magazine subscription covers to dental hygiene brushes to medicines to plastic freebie packaging with every online order you make. Argh! The fact that there are a lot of people who care about this stuff, who don’t feel able to do much about it because  plastic is so pervasive.

And that brings me rather neatly to my next point. Personally, then, I think I need to keep going but more slowly and in full consideration of my personal limitations. And this needs approaching from a much larger perspective. More help is needed! There are so many roads to go down here so I just picked one – enlisting the supermarket.

I motored my way around the Waitrose aisles in my secret fantasy guise as Plastic-Champion-of-the-Universe and on basis of distilled findings, drafted three page document of requested changes for Waitrose buyers at head office. Showed proof to Doug, who gave me kind and skillful feedback, in which somewhere the words ‘middle class’ and ‘eccentric’ might have briefly popped up. I paused in my Haze of Optimism and recalled my own time of working in management, remembering what it was like to receive lengthy complaint letters from people who had no grasp of the context they were writing into. And how that makes you want to make pretty boats out of the said letters.

So I’m still working on that letter and it’s going to start with a very short list of achievable requests…

And on we go….

 

 

Baking your way out of trouble…

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When faced with the prospect of No More Nairns, Doug was originally pretty sanguine about it.

This may have been due to the hefty stash still lurking in the cupboard at the time.

Thing is, when you have an oatcake habit, eventually the stash runs out.

So we reached that day and Doug, cold turkey looming, piece of Mellis cheese in hand, rose to the occasion by making his own.

He acquired a recipe from his pal Tracy at work who got it online from Craigies.

Here is the method:

Ingredients

8 oz medium oatmeal

A good pinch of salt

1 tbsp butter

¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

About 3 fl oz hot water (6 tablespoons)

Mix the oatmeal, salt and bicarbonate of soda together. Melt the butter and pour it into the centre, then stir in enough hot water to make a stiff dough. Sprinkle some oats onto a surface and turn the dough out and knead it thoroughly. Divide the dough into two. Roll out to ¼ inch thick. Cut into shape wanted. Bake in an oven at Gas 3 / 325°F / 160°C for about 30 minutes. (Courtesy of http://www.esfw.com.)

Doug’s variation included removing the bicarbonate of soda (‘don’t need it!’ and ‘can’t work out the point of it in the recipe’) and adding garlic and black pepper for added va va voom.

If oatcakes float your boat, these would get you to the Isle of Mull and maybe even beyond….