Reduce, Rebel, But Never Recycle

Cormac McCarthy –

Now that we all know that ‘recycling’ is another word for exporting our waste to unsuspecting poor counties and now that we know that there is currently no pressure on corporations to change their practice models, what is the best thing to do to for the planet?

If we look for solutions within the narrow parameters of corporations, we will never find one, as the only acceptable one for them, would be one where they could increase their profits whilst implementing a sustainable solution.  This will never happen, (in the short to medium term at the very least).  In the meantime, I would like to make a bold suggestion, not to engage with the farce that is recycling.  As with every other corporate ‘solution’, passing the responsibility on to individuals whilst the ones who have the power to change everything refuse to compromise their profits, is a recipe for failure.  And failure is what we have had up to this point. 

Food and consumer goods manufacturers are producing inappropriate material that cannot be recycled and not using recycled materials in their packaging.  For example in one fell swoop, all producers of tissue products could be forced by the government to produce this material in 100% recycled materials only, mixed materials (Pringles tubes, disposable coffee cups etc.) could be banned – this would focus the minds of these corporations to find a solution, they claim is too ‘difficult and complex’.  After an outcry over Walkers’ Crisp packet waste, recycling points were created across Britain that collected in 18 months, less that one day’s output, that still could not be recycled by Walkers’!

It really is time to stop waiting for corporations to act on this matter, they will not.  The UK along with most governments have targets for recycling, which in some cases they are reaching by shipping large amounts that people are putting in their recycling that can not be recycled, to any poor and unsuspecting countries that will take it (and also to ones that have not consented).  This corporate and government irresponsibility is creating a rubbish time bomb for poor countries, destroying environments and habitats. 

Apparently there is no market for recycled plastic, paper etc. well a government that was looking out for people and not corporations would force them to use it, thereby creating a market.  The solutions are simple, very simple, but corporations will not do anything beyond window dressing and greenwashing unless forced to by government and government won’t do anything unless forced to by an outcry from its population. 

What would happen if we in the west stop engaging with this dishonest charade that is ‘recycling’? What would happen if we put all this ‘recycling’ in the rubbish/landfill? 

  1. It would be disposed of in the country in which it was consumed and not exported to poorer countries who have no obligation to dispose of it or endure it.
  2. Government would soon have to look for genuine ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
  3. It would drive a wedge between the corporations and the government, with the government realising that it will need to reach its targets from corporate action.
  4. Government would be more likely to look for solutions from the producers and retailers of this rubbish.
  5. It would transform recycling from a charade into a reality.

Every day we play along with the recycling charade is another day that the corporations evade their responsibilities and we don’t have another day. 

Their Story is a fair trade organic ecological bedding retailer that is using fair trade to make the world a better and fairer place.

Ethical – Eco Vs. Fair Trade

As ethical traders, producers or advocates, we all feel we are in the business of making the world a better place through our trade and/or influence. What constitutes ethical can be as varied as we are. Some of us are attempting to halt the destruction of our planet and environment, some of us want to ensure that people living in poorer parts of the world are treated fairly and well. And it is difficult to fulfil the requirements to be entirely ethical.

It is also unfortunate that it can often be the case that fulfilling one aspect of our ethical mission can often put us at odds with other aspects of being an ethical business person. For most us of, our mission is to get people to buy things off us – which is fine, because we are producing quality goods ethically and fairly. However, one of the best ways we have of saving our environment from further damage, is to minimise our consumption radically. Everything we buy that is not an absolute to sustain us, carries with it, a carbon footprint. For the environmental ethical business person, this is a dilemma, in finding a product, which has such quality, it will last, or is essential.

When this has been successfully achieved, the next dilemma is whether this environmental mindset is then standing in the way of allowing workers and producers from poorer countries to benefit from access to our markets. Mend and make do, locally sourced and vintage, as environmentally ethical forms of trade, can have the effect of denying market access to fair trade producers from poorer countries. And while imported fair trade products will carry that extra burden of carbon footprint to get here, can now also be hit by our recent hatred of plastic. In a very short space of time, anti-plastic environmentalism has gone mainstream. While some credit David Attenborough for this, it does seem quite a coincidence that it is happening at a time when China has halted imports of our badly recycled plastic. It will be harder, however, for products produced in poorer countries to adapt as quickly as they are being asked to by western consumers.

While it is the case that some fair trade products do not meet all the environmental standards, it is also the case that many environmental products do not meet fair standards. I have come across eco products which really have not considered the workforce producing their products, or distributing them (Amazon- is used by many such companies, despite its well known appalling record on workers rights and tax evasion). And speaking of tax evasion, it is such a shame that there seems to be no alternative to using Facebook. Ecosia, has been a breath of fresh of air in allowing me to go Google free and plant trees for a non profit, whilst getting equivalent content to Google.

In my business, I am trying to minimise the transport footprint, through shipping not air freight, my products are organic certified cotton, are fair trade, use traditional eco friendly dying processes, with fair and decent working conditions in India. I do not use Amazon or such organisations to sell my products and I am trying to eliminate all single use plastic. I hope I am getting there, but we all have a way to go to tick all the boxes.

Cormac McCarthy – owner of Their Story –

Fair Trade – Raw Materials or Finished Products (A better inequality or a move to equality)?

To me, the greatest thing that Fair Trade can achieve, is to bridge the gap between the wealthy West and the poorer South. Poorer countries are excluded from western markets by excessively high tariffs (and it’s the cuddly EU as much as the nasty Mr Trump, that is responsible for this). Tariffs on raw materials are significantly less than tariffs on finished goods and this continues to stunt the development of poorer countries, leaving them both at the mercy of world commodity prices and unable to add value to their own raw materials.

While organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation have stabilised and improved upon the commodity prices that growers achieve, they have never addressed the next stage, which is to move away from a reliance on raw material production.

While Fair Trade coffee is both huge and mainstream, it will surprise most that ‘Good African’ coffee was the first African coffee being owned, roasted and packed in Africa (Uganda) and exported to the UK as a finished product – available in Waitrose in 2005 and more recently in Tesco in 2012, unfortunately it is no longer available. Ironically, while the business was an ethical one, it did not have Fairtrade accreditation. It is a shame that Café Direct, the leading Fairtrade coffee producer in the UK, have recently set up a roasting facility in this country, missing a real opportunity to redress the balance in their producing nations.

The same is true for cotton where Fairtrade accreditation often ends with the production of the raw material, with value being added in the West. I recently saw a textile product on an ethical site, stating that it had been produced in fair working conditions in the EU. Fair Trade should address the challenge, not run away from it.

I set up my bedding company (Their Story) to address what I saw as some of the gaps within the Fair Trade, ethical and/or organic market. For me, organic cotton was not enough, a fair price to the farmer was not enough, I wanted to see finished products being made in India under fair and progressive working conditions. To achieve all of these things for what is also hand printed on 300 thread count 100% cotton sateen is very expensive and a great risk. When added to this, the import duty added to such finished goods, I was taking a very big risk indeed.

Luxury items that are ethical, are a niche within a niche. While people seem to be happy to pay top dollar for high fashion branding made in sweatshops, what they are prepared to pay for handmade high quality with a combination of holistic ethics (organic, fair trade, fair working conditions, environmentally friendly) is still largely uncharted territory.

For me, things are moving slowly, but in the right direction, but I believe that within the ethical trading community we need to be at the forefront of creating equality and driving forward progress through our trade.

Cormac McCarthy is the founder of Their Story