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Going green could be expensive but worthwhile in the UK

Paprika is a spice made from dried, ground peppers used in Spanish and English cuisines, and among different flavours, smoked paprika won great popularity with BBC listing 261 recipes in total using this ingredient under its food column.

The ordinary smoked paprika sold at grocery stores costs around £1.69 for 75g while the same product tagged environment-friendly costs £1.3 for just 10g, or nearly five times more expensive, in Re: Store, a zero waste shop located in Hackney, London.

Most customers in Re: Store are neighbours in the community

Established in 2019 by founder Megan Adams, Re: Store encourages zero waste-conscious shopping to help protect the planet from harmful degradation. Consumers could bring their own containers for products or utilise paper bags provided by the shop to reduce the use of plastic for packaging.

“Our customers want to shop locally and shop sustainably to reduce their environmental impacts,” said Shaniah Bond, assistant manager at Re: Store, “A lot of them like the process of bringing their own jars, filling them and taking them home.”

Food waste situation in the UK

According to the true cost accounting published by Sustainable Food Trust, people in the UK spend £120 billion annually on food, and an additional £116 billion in environmental and health costs caused by the food and farming industries, which are instead passed onto the public through taxes and expenses related to climate change and environmental damage.

Sustainable food reduces the negative environmental impact during their production process, which no longer depends on businesses and systems based on extraction and growth but towards approaches based on the principles of regeneration, sustainability and the circular economy.

According to Statista, UK households are estimated to throw away nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging per year, or 66 items per household per week on average. In 2021, the waste reached a staggering number of 2.5 million metric tons. However, up till now, there is only 10% of everyday plastic packaging getting recycled in the UK, said Greenpeace.

By cooperating with First Mile waste management, Re: Store has committed to recycling most plastic packaging of its offered products, reducing the potential negative effects towards the environment.

First Mile collects plastic bags of pasta, nuts or spices and creates a closed loop by recycling the packages and having them refilled by suppliers again without going directly to the waste system.

Expensive to go zero waste

However, Bond said running a packaging-free and zero-waste business does not mean the operation cost is lower.

“We have to buy bulk, like a 25kg cereal pack, before selling it to customers, so it’s a higher cost upfront. And we try to make sure almost everything in the store is vegan and organic, which contains no preservatives and additives, making the cost higher,” he said.

Sourcing the most ethical products for its customers, Re: Store mainly sells organic and vegan products which could contribute to decreasing carbon emissions, but their prices could be higher than traditional products because of the lack of scale.

Compared to plant-based alternatives, the production of animal products typically requires a tremendous amount of resources for growth and manufacturing. This process can result in a significant amount of carbon emissions, which are estimated to account for 57% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to a journal published on Nature Food.

For example, as cows produce substantial amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, dairy and beef production can have a notable effect on climate change when they digest their food.

During the past decade, meat consumption in Britain has decreased by 17% and the British government-commissioned national food strategy has recently recommended people to further cut their meat consumption by 30% in the next decade.

However, according to the survey conducted by Cornell University in 2022, most organic farms have a smaller size to embody more sustainable approaches than conventional farming.

“Further considering the annual yield per hectare, organic farming tends to yield 8% to 25% less than conventional farming,” said Maria Grazia Mammuccini, an organic olive farmer and president of the Italian organic federation FederBio, to Olive Oil Times.

In the Organic Valley in America, it has adopted the un-corporation business method, making each farmer an owner of the company. Farmers collectively bear the cost of bringing products to the market and are entitled to a portion of the profits when the company thrives. They could receive a fair salary while the business runs on the remainder.

Kearney, a global management consulting firm, published a report analysing the cost of sustainable products in 2020 and pointed out the true cost of sustainability is at the beginning of the value chain.

Compared to traditional agriculture, which uses pesticides and preservatives to lower costs and increase production, sustainable agriculture which uses more expensive natural preservation or pest control methods avoids toxins and makes the costs of production higher.

Aside from toxin use, certifications, such as Organic, B Corp, and Leaping Bunny, increase production costs due to the rigorous testing and inspection they require to ensure sustainable and ethical practices. The fees for organic certification can be costly, reaching thousands of dollars, and the audit process can take several months.

To avoid the use of widely sprayed pesticides as required by certifications, the production process of organic products is mostly manual.

Synthetic herbicides such as glyphosate, 2-4, D and dicamba are prohibited in organic farming, leading to the laborious job of removing noxious weeds manually. Because of the difficulty of the job and the ethical requirements for fair trade, organic farm employees are paid higher sometimes.

There is one tricky point: the production stage of the value chain, which has the greatest impact on sustainability, only makes up 10% to 30% of the final product cost. Conversely, the largest markups are typically added during downstream processes with minimal impact on sustainability and are passed onto consumers as a premium.

Customers empower zero waste regardless of cost

However, some customers are willing to pay for it.

“I’m happy to pay more to protect the environment. And also it’s a local shop which I prefer to a supermarket,” said Daniel, a customer at Re: Store.

Simon-Kucher & Partners, a global strategy and pricing consultancy, published The Global Sustainability Study 2021, which reveals over a third (34%) of consumers worldwide are willing to pay extra for sustainable products as the demand for environmental-friendly options increases.

The survey, in which more than 10,000 people from 17 countries participated, shows that younger generations are more likely to prioritise sustainability, with the result that a higher percentage of millennials and Gen Z are willing to pay for environmentally friendly products compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers. Additionally, Gen Z and Millennials are willing to pay a significantly higher premium for sustainable products, with a premium of 32% and 31% respectively, compared to Baby Boomers at 14% and Gen X at 21%.

Similar to Re: Store, there are more shops in London transforming their business style or even starting their business with the concept of zero waste.

Get Loose Foods, a store based in Hackney that holds different environment-friendly projects about food is fully staffed by volunteers to promote food sustainability and bring the community together.

The store of Get Loose Foods is small compared with others but is welcomed by the community.

Hackney City Farm is now supporting four projects about food sustainability out of a total of six. Get Loose Foods was one of the projects which have gained funds from the North London Waste Authority for reducing food waste.

The store adopts the same green and free packaging style as Re: Store.

Woman using paper bags instead of plastic ones for product

“We collaborate with local farmers and manufacturers here in projects for product supply,” said Jacki Agnew, the founder of Get Loose Foods, “It could reduce the travel distance and carbon miles from the things we sell”.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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