Have we reached a packaging tipping point?

If you are of a certain age you may recall taking your fizzy drink bottles back to the shop you purchased them in exchange for some cash. In fact this writer remembers using this to supplement his pocket money and kindly collecting his neighbours bottles to save them the trip.

This was also at the same time they set fire to large swathes of the countryside after the harvest, so we should acknowledge that things weren’t always better in the past.

Glass packaging was abandoned in favour of plastic around 30yrs ago as it had greater production efficiency, lower weight and lower costs. Using glass as a distribution mechanism had tied retailers into delivery systems over which they had little control.

Call it the Blue Planet effect, or just the penny finally dropping that waste has to go somewhere, but it does appear that a packaging tipping point has been reached.

After years of ‘look at this massive box, I bet what’s inside is amazing’, consumer tastes are shifting.

Whilst the large corporates are inevitably taking time to make a shift towards using sustainable packaging, there are a lot of innovations coming from crowdfunded start-ups.

Take ‘Final Straw’, a US based company looking for £10k on Kickstarter to replace single use plastic straws with a reusable metal one. They ended up with around £1.4m.

In the UK ‘Recycling Technologies’ who have developed a system that will chemically recycle plastic packaging raised around £3.7m partly through crowdfunding in just two weeks.

Ultimately it is consumers who will hold companies to account and businesses from all sectors of industry and being forced to act. Both retailers and manufacturers are having to plan for ‘plastic-free’ aisles and take responsibility for recycling their own packaging. Fancy that?, a company will have to take responsibility at an operational level for the waste they produce and pass on.

I imagine that will bring things into sharp focus pretty quickly.

The definition of ‘Tipping point’ is “the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change”

Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.

So when it comes to a rejection of excess packaging, the importance of sustainability and holding companies to account, I think we are almost there.

Community power at work

Aside from Morris dancing, cricket on the green, warm beer and polite tolerance there’s nothing that says British more than the ‘pub’. These institutions have been with us for nearly 1000 yrs and yet in 21st century Britain they are fast disappearing. According to CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) 29 pubs are being shut each week across the UK.

Changing social habits and rising taxation on our leisure activities has meant that pubs are fast ceasing to be profitable for their corporate owners. They are being sold off, demolished or even converted to many other uses without planning permission or the involvement of the local community who often relied on them.

In a tiny Cambridgeshire village there is a shining example of how community power has saved what is most precious to them.

In 1991 The Green Man, in Thriplow, Cambridgeshire was under threat of being sold by the brewery as a house with planning permission for another dwelling in the grounds.  Luckily pressure from locals prevented this and The Green Man was bought by two individuals who gave The Green Man a better  future as a free house.

On 1st October 2012, a new limited company formed to manage the purchase of The Green Man. 71 shareholders from Thriplow and surrounding communities pooled their resources to ensure the pub would remain open and preserve it as an asset for the village.  The community support the pub by using it & feel a great deal of ownership over it. This is the best support a village pub can ask for.

Today, and this writer can vouch for it, The Green Man in Thriplow is one of the best pubs in rural Cambridgeshire and nearly 5 stars on Trip Advisor support this.

With beers brewed specifically for them and locally sourced produce that delivers a fabulous menu all the hard work and money invested is proof to how important this community asset is to the people who use it.

There is a valuable campaign afoot – An asset of community Value (ACV) . Your community can list your local pub to ensure its survival as an integral part of your community.

The nature of ‘pubs’ will inevitably change as society changes but wouldn’t it be good if we could recognise these historic establishments for the value they deliver to the local community and find ways to enhance that value in the 21st century.

With the backing of the community and a little lateral thinking maybe the future of the pub is healthier than we realise.



5 good reasons to shop local

Since 2010 the initiative ‘Small Business Saturday’ has grown from a grass-roots campaign encouraging consumers to ‘shop local’, into an annual event that has reached millions and raises awareness of the crucial importance of small businesses.

Whilst this event has become a once a year calendar occasion to coincide with the beginning of the Christmas shopping period, there are number of reasons why every day should be a Small Business Day.

  1. It boosts the local economy – Research by local authorities has shown that more of your money stays local when you spend with SME’s. For every £1 spent 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.
  2. Experience the joy of discovery – Independent retailers are where you find those items that are made locally and aren’t available elsewhere. Independent booksellers stock authors that you won’t find in the major chains. Local shops support local artists and designers, food producers and growers, so you’re buying products absolutely unique to your area.
  3. You will help to strengthen communities – Many local retailers such as bookshops, cafes and galleries often host events to generate business. From book groups and local bands to crafting clubs and children’s events. Local markets also often give space to community groups with public spaces becoming bustling retail centres
  4. You will be supporting British entrepreneurs – The next generation of designers, makers, retailers and bakers can be found at Artisan markets up and down the country. There is a constant turnover of new products with sellers highly attune to changing tastes.
  5. It is the ethical choice – We all need to start thinking more about the provenance of what we purchase and its impact on the planet. Strawberries in December have travelled along way wrapped in layers of plastic. When you shop local more of your purchases have had a much shorter trip and have less packaging.

Is social enterprise the saviour of the high street?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock it won’t be news to you that the traditional high street is under threat in most parts of the country and has almost dissolved entirely in others.

The butcher, baker and candlestick maker have been replaced by café’s, charity shops and chains stores.  The supermarket and the growth in online shopping are two of the main contributory factors and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

Nor should they. They create jobs and revenue. Unfortunately, that generated revenue doesn’t benefit the local community in they way that perhaps it should or could.

Social Enterprise exists to achieve a social mission, such as providing healthcare for the poor, creating community assets such as an arts centre, or recycling waste and turning it into luxury handbags.

What differentiates a social enterprise from a charity is that it delivers sustainable revenue and reinvests it back into the business or the local community.

It is arguably the fastest growing entrepreneurial sector. So imagine a high street where these social enterprises have taken up the mantle left by small businesses that were no longer able to compete.

Imagine that every time you purchased goods or services you were able to get actual real money back from the revenue generated.

Imagine being given the choice to take that money back or re-invest it into projects that your local community needed.

Imagine being given that choice in a world where people who don’t walk in your shoes take your taxes and decides how they are spent.

Imagine that one day, not far from now, the high street looks a little different. Locally owned shops thrive once more. Their contributions genuinely benefitting the people and the community that invests in them.

This is part of the LocoSoco vision.

Beats club card points, don’t you think?

Why eco-friendly isn’t a luxury anymore

In some circles the notion of being ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly is a bit of an anathema. Too expensive, not useful and not available round here.

In addition, the stereotypes given to the environmentally aware have not always been kind.

They can range from the chia latte drinking, yoga-tastic, husband works in the city, yummy mummy’s of suburbia to the dog on a string hippy don’t build that road here eco-warrior of yore.

So, to date many of the barriers to adoption have been high and uptake has been driven by the zealous or those with the means.

Products that we use every day such as washing up liquid, toilet roll, and bin bags are widely available both online and in-store. But on the first channel they need to be actively looked for and in the supermarket their presence is swamped by the promotions of the corporations.

For the average shopper, price and convenience are the strongest levers when it comes to buying everyday household items, and why shouldn’t they be?

LocoSoco are bringing eco-friendly products to market at a price comparable to the big brands. We can do this through the power of bulk buying, which keeps the costs to you low.

You’ll be able to buy them at a place that is probably the most convenient of all. Your local shop. Its probably just down the road, rather than out of town.

When you run out you can go back for a refill.

Simple isn’t it? But then the best ideas always are.

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