Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Banana Metaphor

Sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel, doesn't it?

And apt that I should be penning this having just read this moments before:

The scandal of overpackaging on the doorstep of Parliament

By my best understanding from the organisers, neither the Independent nor any political critic, especially any mentioned here (a real shame, becuase I rated him until now), made it to the Total Packaging Show, at which I have spent the last few days. And that's a pity, because they all might benefit for being a bit better informed, and possibly retain some professional credibility as qualified commentators as well.

I have to say the whole piece seems outrageous just as a free-thinking individual, never mind having had the benefit of some further education at the show on the whys and wherefores of packaging. So I reckon the true scandal can be laid at the door of those seeking to profit from very dodgy politics and reporting.

'His mission was to locate the worst examples and report them to Westminster Council trading standards department for possible prosecution.'

I have to be grateful to the piece for one thing, as part of my learning curve I now have heard of The 2003 Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations, which theoretically outlaws products with unnecessary wrapping, and under which Environment minister (sic) Ben Bradshaw has apparently urged the public to report the worst examples.

"I would regard that as unnecessary" says Mr. Baker.

Has he asked why it is done like that? And in any case who is he to say what is, and is not... 'necessary'. I'm sure the suit he wears is not 'necessary'. But it is a consumer society, free...ish for now, and he chose it. It was on sale, so one can only presume it was permitted to be presented for him to buy it. Are we to believe that government, with all its rules and fees and licences and inspectors and committees and quangos, is seriously saying that it is only when it hits the rubbish bin that they have any part in authorising an item's existence, and are asking the public to police it (fines at the ready) for them on top? Bonkers. If you don't like what comes out at the end, deal with what goes in at the front! Or might that run afoul of a few tax revenues?

One thing I have learned at the show is that almost (an important caveat) no manufacturer, retailer or supplier in their right mind spends more than necessary on packaging. It simply adds cost.

Which brings me to the Banana Metaphor.

In one of the many seminars, a lady from the WI whipped out a cellophane-wrapped bag of bananas. 'Awful', she said. 'No reason for it', she huffed. And there it lay, on the podium, taunting us with its offensiveness.

Thing is, I wondered why it was so wrapped... and asked. She didn't know, and seemed rather stunned at our reaction that she didn't, and hadn't bothered to find out. She had had meetings with Gordon Brown, Terry Leahy and Lord alone knows who else to 'discuss' (they must p*ss themselves laughing as such folk walk out the door thinking they have had a fair hearing - the guy from ASDA actually offered that 'now this has been raised we must discuss it with you', obviously forgetting that the reason for the original campaign was because no one answered the WI's calls and questions) such travesties, but this was someone who didn't know why it had been done in the first place. How can you mount a campaign such as this without knowing all the facts!!! While her heart was in the right place, such lack of preparation undercut her whole message, which was a real shame.

But still, for now, as to why that banana was wrapped, I do not know all the possible reasons, and certainly not for certain. The guy from ASDA had a stab and said it was because they gave off an organic gas that accelerated rotting in other fruit and veg. Fair enough, if true, and not a bad mitigation as food waste is waaaay worse than packaging waste. You are offended by a wrapper? Try a pile of rotting fruit that has been flown from halfway round the world to go off (see the slide above? that's one from a Tesco speaker on carbon footprints, proving that a flower from Kenya can still be better than one from Holland. And I must say it made sense as I saw it).

In a future blog I will share some other stats I have been given which need to be checked, but really do put a different spin on things, as if enough were not being spun out of all reasonable control already. A guy from the floor, who packs for Tescos, offered that it was because it kept the hands together, as loose bananas were not picked up by shoppers and... went to waste.

See where I am going? For a start, it is not so simple as presented, but then there is the fact that the issues are being presented so WOEFULLY by all concerned, and frankly disingenuously for hugely selfish reasons by some, such that the consumer has no clue what to think. And, by my estimation, is thinking up a very wrong tree by what is being served up by our political and media establishments. However, the packaging industry does need to look at itself by fighting its corner so poorly. You may argue that it's not their job; they are merely a business responding to the specifications of those higher up the chain. But this is the new reality, and perception is every bit as key as truth.

"The worst example is the Ferrero Rocher chocolate... The box is probably worth more than the chocolates."

Well, yes, probably. Back to the suit, mate. It is possibly worth more than what's in it too. It's called gilding the lily. Get on this route and we are looking at being told how every free-thinking aspect of our lives is conducted, with no acceptance of style, choice or anything else. You can forget design, advertising...

I am not defending excess, but will totally fight against any hint of such nanny-state, killjoy intervention to freedom of thought and action, by self-appointed 'guardians' with agendas. Whatever means there are to curb excess there have been, are and may yet come, this is not it.

"It is perfectly possible to sell a lot of products without any packaging at all."

Some, yes. But it's a different world now. He, and others, are trying to tackle a global situation of immensely complex, interactive components, by scapegoating, to an incredibly simplistic degree, one, very small aspect. Just like trashing 4x4s lets every Londoner off the hook as they fly off for a skiing weekend because they have bought a Prius to beat the C-charge. It may buy a few more trendy-liberal votes and readers, but it does not make the planet better for my kids.

The Westminster Council decision was a great one for this environmentalist... for common sense. A prosecution here would be like taking a 12 year old to court for not disposing of litter in the right bin... oh, they have, haven't they? Are we really handing over our future, and that of our kids, to such shallow zealots?

"It's terribly wasteful, it won't break down."

Yes. And yes. But it is a box of luxury chocolates. Apply this logic to just about any aspect of our life today. It is one that demands we sit in a small box of our own, in a one-piece overall eating Soylent Green. That is not living, that is simply existing.

"It will go into a landfill site as it is and will sit there for decades."

Probably. But how about coordinating the waste strategy a bit better at your level, matey? That way the public can recycle it effectively. Or... reuse it. Now there is a site that helps with that. . Now, what was it? Not in the Indy because they have other agendas to shriek about... J...something.

"Fruit should be sold loose."

Er, not necessarily. I stand ready to see this further debated, but we get back to what is used and what is wasted, versus what is added by way of packaging to prevent waste. I will put my hand up with an example. My kids will not eat a bruised apple. Call it bad parenting, yoof of today or whatever, but that's the case. So if I buy loose apples they don't get eaten. I buy them protected and they get eaten. There can often be method in this, and the consumer is more often than not the culprit, not the innocent victim to be 'saved' by these folk.

Undoubtedly, some of these examples do seriously breach my ultimate test, which is the enviROI. But against that there are certain freedoms of consumer choice in a democratic society.

Remember that word: CHOICE. I like being able to exercise my right to make it, and to do so on a fully informed basis. This piece and such campaigns that lie behind do not, at least to me, come across as anything like that.

I can't stand....

Well, Monday's are taken as read, but as I am currently doing well skipping being pinned to an actual opinion by simply attributing to others, here is one from St. Bob that I 'noted' in light of some views I have held on this issue already: Live Earth? It's a waste of time, Geldof tells Gore

"To make us aware of the greenhouse effect? Everybody's known about that problem for years. We are all fucking conscious of global warming."

Couldn't have gosh-darn well said it better myself! As he points out, the organisers of Live Earth had no specific target... "So it's just an enormous pop concert or the umpteenth time that, say, Madonna or Coldplay get up on stage."

I am prepared to bet, however, that Indy journos will be gushing to get to the VIP Green rooms when it all hits town. Can't get enough awareness. Doing... well...

As a packager asked me yesterday at the show: 'Why is that they have this big campaign about packaging, yet I have never heard you guys mentioned as you are trying to mitigate its effects?" Quite.

Getting what you deserve?

This could be deemed a slight case of shooting in the foot if taken one way, but I choose to believe that, having had some measure of award success in certain areas, I can at least make comment without being accused of total sour grapes (especially as, in the case below, I didn't apply - by clean forgetting - more fool me).

In fact I won't comment too much, but let the facts, and others, do it for me.

First up is this from the press office of the Observer Ethical (hold that thought) Awards:


The shortlist is revealed today for the second Observer ethical awards... The entrants were judged by a combination of reader votes and by a celebrity panel, which included Alastair MacGowan, David James and Emily Eavis. The winners will be announced at an award ceremony in London on June 7.

The Observer ethical awards aim to reward those pioneering a sustainable
future for the country and provide a unique opportunity to recognise and
reward the very best products, innovations and schemes that make living
ethically achievable.

There are some other interesting nominees in my view (look at the supermarkets), but this little lot grabbed my attention:

Politician of the Year
Gordon Brown
Caroline Lucas
David Cameron

Looking at the way the votes were cast, and having a vague understanding of people's motivations, I can sort of see how Mr. Cameron made it through sheer media spin and presence (that is, being on it, an no , in my view, by having any), if not, by any tangible measure why. Caroline Lucas makes sense, but I'd be fascinated to know who outside a pretty small circle have heard of her.

In fact I'm guessing a lot of folk had to scrabble to think of anyone in politics as actually, genuinely 'green' (which, as Ethical Man's travels taught me, is not quite the same as ethical).

But.... Gordon Brown?????!

Let's leave it to Dave of Solarventi:

And as on one hand Gord tells us about promoting eco houses and renewables....
… the other hand reduces grants! See the Indy

Hmn. Worth winning in such company?