With a never-ending amount of litter polluting Britain’s streets, Malcolm Walker explains how retailers can help take a stand and reduce the amount of money, and rubbish, that’s thrown away every year.
My last column inspired Allison Ogden-Newton, chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy, to beat a path to my office, clearly sensing a kindred spirit. I learned a lot.
Founded by the Women’s Institute in 1954, as post-war consumerism took hold, her organisation’s reach now embraces everything from Blue Flags for beaches to Green Flags for parks, and Eco-Schools across England.
But combating litter remains central to its mission.
Did you know that the UK is currently wasting £1 billion a year picking up other people’s rubbish? That could pay for 33,000 nurses, 4,000 libraries, or half a billion free school meals.
The Royal Parks spend more on collecting litter than they do on planting flowers, and the RSPCA responds to 5,000 calls a year to animals injured by the stuff we have carelessly chucked away.
The number one problem is cigarette butts, which I’d always considered the least offensive type of waste until Allison explained that they are a massive contributor to the plague of plastic detritus in our oceans.
And by 2050, if nothing is done, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
After fags it’s confectionery, drinks and fast food: the usual suspects. It’s not our fault as retailers that 20% of our customers are too thick or lazy to put their packaging in a bin, but it is in all our interests to do something about it. Research shows that regularly seeing products as litter negatively affects people’s perceptions of brands.
Eating and drinking on the go has become the norm – a symbol of our status as very busy people who simply haven’t got time to sit down and eat a proper meal.
It’s something I have fought against at Iceland, where every member of head office staff has to eat their lunch in our Roxy restaurant, even if they have brought their own food from home.
We’re also doing our utmost to cut down waste in general. Clearly we have a natural advantage in that it is really quite hard to waste frozen food, unless your freezer breaks down. But we’re also looking at a range of packaging innovations that should reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastic currently contributing to Britain’s waste mountain.
Our conversation was going swimmingly until Allison suggested that Iceland sign up for the next Great British Spring Clean: Keep Britain Tidy’s annual litter pick before the roadside verges start being cut and every single piece of rubbish gets shredded into irrecoverable pieces.
It’s a great idea, but naturally there’s a cost. A good old Yorkshire cry of “How much?” rang round the building.
But I’ve just told all the store managers at our annual conference that we’re going to do it.
There’s nine times more litter on the streets in deprived areas than affluent ones, and getting it cleared up can be the start of putting some pride back into communities, helping people to get to know each other and working together for the common good.
Make a place clean and tidy, and evidence suggests that the crime rate will go down.
Collecting litter requires no special knowledge and delivers instant results: the area looks better and the litter-pickers feel better about themselves.
With 900 stores, 23,000 people and five million customers, I reckon Iceland can make a real difference to the environment through this initiative, which I will be leading from the front.
Last year’s Great British Spring Clean inspired more than 300,000 people to get out and about litter-picking. They hope to make it 400,000 this year.
So why not join us? Let’s see which retailer can do the most to Keep Britain Tidy in spring 2018.