Last year across our business, Neal’s Yard Dairy used 111,410 plastic bags. We are acutely aware of the environmental burden of plastics in the environment, not just the ones that end up in landfills, but also the plastic waste that ends up in the ocean. Therefore, from the 1st of January 2018, we have decided to start charging a nominal 5p per bag in our shops.
Studies have shown that since it was implemented for larger companies in October of 2015, plastic bag usage in England has dropped by 85%, and we want to play our part. Proceeds from the 5p charge will be donated to a charity that offers urban children an opportunity to live and work on a farm in the countryside.
Our clear plastic bags are made of a substance called low density polyethylene (LDPE), which can be identified by the number 4 inside the triangular recycling symbol. Unfortunately it is not widely collected for household recycling yet, though mixed plastic recycling is expected to be underway within the next five years. In the meantime, some grocery services such as Ocado have collection schemes that offer a 5p credit in exchange, even for bags from other companies like ours.
Because our bags are clear, it’s not possible to manufacture them from post-consumer recycled content: even more reason to reduce the number that we use as much as possible. Using a reusable bag for cheese does not present any extra risk relative to using it for any other ready-to-eat food, and The Food Standards Agency has reported that it is not aware of any evidence to suggest that reusing bags for grocery shopping will affect rates of food-related illness.
The Food Standards Agency has issued some useful, common-sense guidance on its website for shoppers who reuse bags, including:
- Pack raw foods in separate bags from ready-to-eat foods.
- If you use “bags for life,” keep one or two for raw foods only and don’t use them for ready-to-eat foods.
- Check bags for spillages after every use. Dispose of plastic bags that are soiled, and wash cotton/fabric bags in the washing machine.
Our decision to start charging for plastic bags is part of a wider review of our use of disposable packaging at Neal's Yard Dairy. We’ve been working with this in mind for several years: Most of our deliveries of soft, delicate cheeses take place in reusable plastic crates. Rather than single-use cardboard boxes, these food-grade, paper-lined crates are washed between each use and last for years.
This year we started a programme to encourage more of our wholesale customers to take their cheese deliveries in plastic crates, as well. So far, it has been a great success, saving lots of time in packing and unpacking on both sides and saving many cardboard boxes from being wasted.
We have also stopped sending out highly-perishable goods like yoghurts and ricotta to our wholesale customers by unrefrigerated courier, a practice that requires large numbers of ice packs and extra plastic wrapping to keep these delicate items secure during transit. Instead, we have re-organised our cheese collection runs to include customer deliveries, allowing us to be more fuel-efficient, decrease our use of packaging still further, and to drop by more of our customers’ shops and restaurants to say hello.
We still have a long way to go, and will be working in the new year and beyond to reduce unnecessary environmental impact still further. If you have any questions, or ideas or tips to share, we’d love to hear from you.