Kendal Mountain Festival has long been the home of World Premiere’s, exclusive talks, collaborations and the bringing together of minds. The outdoor, adventure and action sports communities are in many ways at the forefront of witnessing the world we live in and our impact, but along with that, it can be strongly argued that we are very much part of the problem.
In the past few years we have seen greater awareness of our impact, through the likes of Planet Earth, the Blue Planet, A Plastic Ocean and campaigns through organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage/SAS.
I have been a member of SAS for a number of years, but being in the centre of the country (Milton Keynes) and rarely venturing to the coast, I suppose deep down it was more a thirst for what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve, then getting involved with beach cleans and being proactive. An offshoot from their Head of Engagement and Community, Dom Ferris, Trash Free Trails, quenched some of that thirst, and it got me to start regularly cleaning my home mtb and running trails.
Above all, what I am trying to get across is that the knowledge and ideas may be out there, but connecting with different communities is they key to generating action.
A packed Marmot Stage in the Basecamp of Kendal Mountain Festival set the stage for an announcement that marks the start of years of collaboration and pressure to change the way we consume, right back to the source of the problem itself.
On Friday 16th November, Richard Walker, MD of Iceland Foods and Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage announced a partnership between the two companies, that will increase the sharing of knowledge, resources, but above all pressure to free communities of plastic. SAS have been at the forefront of putting pressure on business and government to come up with a solution with this problem that is having the most visible impact globally.
On the panel to discuss the partnership and wider environmental issues were Richard Walker, Hugo Tagholm and Kenton Cool, 13 time Everest summiter and advocate for the cause.
It was startling to hear from Richard, the sheer quantity of plastic used within the supermarket industry and also at Iceland Foods.
- 1 million tonnes of plastics produced every year from UK supermarkets
- Iceland Foods, committed to be the first retailer in the world to become plastic free for own brand products by 2023
- We (Iceland Foods) produce 1 milllion single use black plastic trays – high in carbon, single use, the worst sort
- We (Iceland Foods) will stop using them (black plastic trays) by the end of this year
Having steered SAS for over 10 years, Hugo is well placed to talk about community action and engaging with volunteers. When he started, SAS was a very small team, with a small volunteer base. This year, SAS will have worked with over 75,000 volunteers, reaching 400 communities and over 300,000 people. For this to have success, Hugo states there needs to have an authenticity behind the action, as this work will be channeled into Plastic Free Communities. Plastic Free Communities is about engaging and working with grass roots, right up to the biggest of businesses and government, an all inclusive action, to mobilise us as consumers and take responsibility for how we consume, but more over, what happens before and after. Within this, there will be Plastic Free Community Awards, celebrating and championing those who innovate, lead from the front and engage with those around them to take responsibility for our planet’s future. This isn’t a coastal action, far from it. this is for every mountain, fell, city, inner city, coastal town – everywhere.
Kenton Cool spoke about his experiences in the Himalayas, and how that even the remote Kumbu region have realised that allowing the land around them, their environment, to become a dumping ground and waste heap, has severe negative consequences. Despite the challenges involved, they have made huge changes, right up to Everest basecamp, restoring the area to its natural state, removing litter left from countless expeditions.
If they can do it, in an extreme environment, why can’t we in the Western World?
“We are merely stewards for what we have left”A subject Kenton was clearly passionate about was the next generation. As he put, we have raped and pillaged our seas, our land, our resources. How can we now engage with the next generation to appreciate the outdoors, the environment, to inspire them to want to invent the next forms of renewable energy, propulsion, packaging, to tackle the challenges, we as a society, have created over the past 200 years. Showing how great our own mountains and coastlines can be, exposing and enthusing those that will be picking up the gauntlet, knowledge that can be then shared to developing nations, who are left to deal with recycling our waste.
- 9% gets recycled
- 21% gets burnt
- Rest goes to landfill
Clearly, the infrastructure isn’t in place, nor the products being used should be made in the first place.
“The first thing we need to do is eliminate”
Richard was quizzed on the plastics used and he held his hands up to say, that some of the packaging used in the past was just criminal. With bioplastics and biodegradable plastics now potential alternative, he was challenged when he stated Iceland Foods were “Moving out of plastic all together”
On Bioplastics – they are still a plastic and with that, take half a melenia to break down.
On Biodegradable plastic – haven’t found one that can truly be broken down. There is also no system or infrastructure to manage these types of materials. The knock on effect may be that in turn, it complicates or slows down the current recycling streams, and may also lead people to believe they can simply add it to their compost heaps or if they drop it on the street, it will break down anyway.
As with all things biodegradable, they need the correct conditions to do so in, which unless there are large scale facilities set up for this very action, most will once again sit in landfill, stagnant and in its current form.
Richard also raised an important and overlooked area, cost. There are an increasing numbers of materials out there that may offer a solution, however, they are uncommercial for the target market. With many of Iceland Foods customers having £20 a week to live on, this technology isn’t commercially viable. Yet, this subject has filtered down to those with the smallest of budgets. It is no longer something only those with affluence can act on or talk about. Everyone, at every level of income should be allowed to participate as a consumer and therefore, stopping the problem at the source, rather then reengineering the problem, with a short term fix, is much easier long term to sustain and manage.
“14 minutes of blue planet – about plastic pollution”
Plastic has united individuals and governments to take action, and the 14 minutes in Blue Planet that showed the scale of the problem, has resonated with more people then years of campaigning.
“Ease & reward”
Making a campaign easy to understand for everyone it is aimed towards, empowers those who engage and makes spreading information rapid and easy. Showing the benefits is just as important, i.e. why going plastic free will help communities on a global scale, including our own. The Iceland Foods christmas add is such an example – easy to understand, a clear message and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, banned for being too political. However arm your community with an easy message to understand and action will be taken. It has now become the most watched Christmas advert ever, with over 50 million views, despite being in mid November of the launch year and has amassed over 955,000 signatures on a petition to allow it onto tv (it’ll likely be 1 million by the time you read this). On the back of this, the Palm Oil industry have committed to ceasing deforestation. Consumer action has a real and genuine effect.
Consumer action and direction lead to change. The All parliamentary group, for which SAS are a member, resulted in the 5p plastic bag charge, which has led to an 85% reduction in uptake and 3 billion less bags in circulation. On top this they working on a bag deposit scheme, given dealign with those in circulation is a huge problem.
Iceland Foods are reviewing certification schemes across the board, looking at their entire sourly chain, meeting with marine conservation societies and above all, as Richard said “you have to start with the source.”
“Do not be complacent, being in the outdoors does not make you an environmentalist. Sometimes you need to walk away from your pursuits to protect your environment”
The outdoor community are way better informed than many, however it can go much further. It is about being informed and making informed decisions. Given the outdoors is what bring us life, makes us feel alive, it is our responsibility to engage and engagement can always be better. Therefore engaging with all communities, with all incomes, resources and activity levels is vital, as the below stats show that 1/3rd of the next generation will not have the same opportunities, stimuli or access that many of us take for granted.
- 1/3 of children in poverty
- 1.3 million kids never go to a park
Age of conscious consumption – how do we encourage businesses?
17% of climate change is down to the meat industry – it is the biggest contributor. However, Iceland sell a lot of meat and that isn’t about to change. As Richard explained, the sales of meat allows them put pressure on the palm oil industry, invest in moving out plastics. “Do what you can, with what you can.”
“Plastic is a gateway to bigger issues”
Unusual connections are the way forward, working with all minds and not limiting it to one industry or set of ideals. Plastic has had more success with politics than any other subject in past years and this opens up the doorway to further talks on a host of environmental issues.
There is a lot to take in and I want to thank Richard Walker for the invite. This is happening now, Iceland and SAS are already taking action, which will only accelerate and become more widely known. We can all play our part in Plastic Free Communities and as has been stated throughout, the consumer has power. Be mindful in your purchases, question do you really need plastic wrapping your vegetables, put pressure on business you invest in with your purchases and above all, engage with the wider community. Strength comes in numbers and plastic is something we can see the result of in every hedgerow, side alley and gutter.