Contemplating the world of zero packaging

1st September 2000

I WOULDN’t like to live beside a dump, no matter how well managed it was supposed to be. Yet every Wednesday I wheel my bin, usually full, out for the wheelie bin truck to take my rubbish off to dump it beside someone else.

This state of affairs cannot last and has now become politically untenable. Everywhere you go in Ireland you can see signs saying ‘no dump here’, while the High Court if full of campaigners and community groups seeking injunctions and court orders to prevent the development of new dumps.

So the Government has a plan. Roughly this involves changing our current practice of dumping about 80% of our waste to dumping 20% of our waste. The rest will be incinerated or recycled.

It’s not a bad plan and it seems to work well in other countries. But there is, of course, a glitch. No-one in their right mind wants an incinerator near them while the evidence about dioxens mounts up.

Also, recycling is in itself a bit of an environmental disaster. You need additional trucks or car journeys for it to work. Recycling also produces waste and consumes energy. And the product is bound to be degraded over time, while 100% recycling can only ever be an aspiration.

It seems to me that the very obvious point is being avoided here and that is we are going to have to stop producing waste.

This will involve, as they say in internet parlance, a paradigm shift – a complete overhaul of our current economic and social habits. And in fact, the internet might well be the key to achieving a waste free world.

My advice to any budding entrepreneur is to think carefully about this. Imagine a world where you can’t by a carton of milk. How will the milk get to the consumer? If you can solve that one, you’re going to be rich.

Expand that concept across all commodities and you have changed the world.

And it’s not like people can’t see the problem. There is widespread awareness that there is far too much packaging on modern products.

In theory, if new delivery systems could be introduced all this packaging could be eliminated.

Take a packet of Eclair sweets, for example. Each sweet is individually wrapped, the whole lot is wrapped together and then the shopkeeper will give you a bag to put the packet in. It’s ridiculous!

Eventually it will become so expensive to dump rubbish that the cost will start to feed into the products themselves. But this could take a long time as it is the consumer that does the dumping and not the producer.

To speed things up the Government and the EU can change the landscape overnight by introducing new green taxes. The Government has made a start by introducing a charge on shopping bags.

But the major taxes should be levied on the producers as they have the wherewithal to change the dynamics of their industries.

Time for an example.

California is one of the biggest consumers of automobiles in the world. The state government has introduced a law that 10% of cars sold in California by 2010 or thereabouts must be electrically powered.

Those companies who do not reach this target cannot sell proportionately any more cars in California.

This single law has been responsible for more research into alternatives to petrol engines than any other measure or event, including the various oil crises.

Ireland is probably too small to make this impact but it is still a significant market for many companies.

Regulation also has a role to play. Simply ban excessive packaging.

Meanwhile, the internet promises shopping and delivery systems that would eliminate the marketing role of packaging and the need for protective wrapping.

And when we’ve sorted out the packaging we can start on the everlasting product that never needs to be dumped.


As well as that…

National League own goal

The Bohez had a tremendous win over Aberdeen in the UEFA Cup last week and I was there to see it.

While the Bohs defensive organisation was excellent, the ground organisation left a lot to be desired.

The seating, which is supposed to be UEFA’s contribution to world happiness, was a free for all and many people ended up sitting or standing in the aisles.

I’m surprised UEFA let it pass without comment. The National League has to get its act together for the Kaiserslautern match.

Bus to arrive late (as usual)

The Dublin Transportation Office (DTO) proposal to tax car parking places is a good one but it is putting the cart before the horse.

There are no peak-time places available on buses for people who decide to take public transport.

You can’t, in all fairness, ask people to change when there is no alternative available.

Why not wait until the Luas and metro are completed?

Incidentally, if car parking is to be taxed, does this mean that people will now be able to claim tax back on all car parking?

Will Paisley be the next Pope?