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Reform Magazine | October 22, 2019

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Editorial: A small step

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In Cole Porter’s wonderful 1934 song You’re the Top, a couple tell each other how terrific they are. Each likens the other to a succession of delightful things and people – a mix of timeless classics and up-to-the-minute sensations, from Napoleon brandy to Mahatma Gandhi and from Strauss to the six-year-old Mickey Mouse.

Probably the most surprising line for later generations is: ‘You’re the National Gallery, you’re Garbo’s salary, you’re cellophane.’ When was something as mundane as food packaging ever so exciting? The answer is: in 1934. Moisture-proof cellophane was seven years old. It kept biscuits crunchy and vegetables crisp. It reduced waste and increased storage time, making food cheaper. It reduced damage. It allowed for self-service meat counters, eliminating queues. And it allowed you to see exactly what you were getting.

In 2019, we can no longer sing the praises of plastic packaging so wholeheartedly. Since Porter’s time, we have produced billions of tonnes of plastic, and millions of tons enters the oceans each year. Like industrial use of fossil fuels, what started out as a blessing has become a vast, all-consuming, destructive addiction.

It is still worth reflecting on all the benefits these things have brought into our lives. It would be terribly churlish not to be grateful; we also need to get a handle on just how much our lifestyle depends on these unsustainable godsends if we are to change. Which, of course, we have to do, drastically.

All of which, in my usual roundabout style, is by way of flagging up the fact that we have finally changed the packaging in which single copies of Reform are delivered to subscribers. This has taken a while. If you receive your magazine from a local church distributor, this was never a problem, but individual copies were posted in polythene. Readers have repeatedly pointed out – most recently on this month’s letters page – that writing strong words about the environmental crisis and then wrapping them in single-use plastic is a good way to look like a fool. We looked into alternative packaging more than once but found the price ruinous.

Now, at last, we have moved to a distribution company who wrap magazines in biodegradable polythene. This decomposes in sunlight, so it is recommended that we put it in the recycling rather than compost.

It is a small step, and inadequate, but in the right direction. Climate has to be addressed on a national and international scale. Michael Gove’s ban in May on plastic straws, swizzle sticks and cotton buds was a start – a drop in the ocean, to use a dismal metaphor – but again a small step in the right direction.

I increasingly think that what we are is an accumulation of small, inadequate steps. We just need to be going in the right direction – and have enough time to get there.

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This article was published in the September 2019 edition of Reform

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