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Waste campaigner races against time in anti-packaging fight

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Kathy Sirl in her zero packaging store The Naked Pantry
Kathy Sirl in her zero packaging store The Naked Pantry

A ZERO packaging campaigner is in a race against time with a crowdfunding exercise that is more than two-thirds towards its target - with just 10 days to go.

Kathy Sirl, who runs The Naked Pantry in Westcroft Parade, New Milton, is seeking £1,200 for a machine producing milk alternatives and nut butter, while also highlighting the absence of local facilities for recycling drink cartons.

At the last count, £810 had been pledged through the website www.crowdfunder.co.uk/nakedpantry

Kathy is on a mission to provide milk alternatives because Tetra Pak cartons that are currently used cannot be recycled. However, the project will only be successful if at least £1,200 is pledged by 26th February – which is the crowdfunding deadline.

“We have an issue in the New Forest where there are no facilities for recycling Tetra Pak cartons,” said Kathy, who has lobbied both New Forest District Council and the county council. “So, these are either going into landfill or the council incinerator.

“From the feedback we have from our customers, the majority want to recycle them not put them in their black sacks.”

While most councils in neighbouring Dorset – including Christchurch, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey and West Sussex provide Tetra Pak recycling, the only authority to offer such a service in Hampshire is Test Valley.

Kathy said: “I originally offered to take in the packs and transport them to a Christchurch collection point, but in the first week I got over 750, which is a lot of other people’s rubbish.

“So, I thought about the problem from another angle.

“I noticed that most customers use Tetra Pak cartons for milk alternative products – such as soya or almond milk – and so I have started a crowd funder page to raise £1,200 to get the machines required for customers to come in, buy the nuts / oats / beans and turn them into fresh milks or butters in store.

“That way there’s no waste, no Tetra Pak cartons and it’s cheaper than buying the ready-made product. Not only will it help reduce waste, it will provide fresher, additive-free milks for those that use them.”

Kathy added: “Because of issues of cross contamination with allergens, on environmental health advice we are planning two machines for nuts and non-nuts.

"We know we need to be really careful and they will be on opposite sides of the shop with all scoops and containers clearly marked and separate.

“If we can hit the target it means that customers can use the machines for free, just buying as much or little as they need of the raw ingredients. It only takes 12 minutes to make milk or butter and there are huge cost savings for the customer, with a price of 19p for the finished product instead of £1.80.”

New Forest District Council’s service manager for waste and recycling, Chris Noble, said he was pleased there was a “strong will” by the public to increase recycling in the area.

“We’ve talked with a company that can supply beverage carton banks and who understand the recycling processes for these materials – but this service does have a cost,” he said.

“In light of the government’s recent waste and resources strategy, we are working, alongside our Hampshire partners, to understand the best options open to us.

“We do know that cartons and Tetra Paks account for 0.5% of the total waste stream, and so although this is not insignificant, the costs of recycling bank implementation, emptying costs, additional environmental impact from transporting it, and the potential impact on the overall makeup of the waste stream must be fully considered when we are looking at whether or not to introduce new recycling in the district.

“In addition, a proportion of every beverage carton is still not recyclable and has to be disposed of even though it may have been collected for recycling. In 2019, NFDC will be reviewing its Waste Strategy and will be considering options open to us.”

For the county council, Cllr Rob Humby, cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “In the past, due to the limited market and the constraints of the existing recycling infrastructure, the addition of items such as mixed plastic packaging (aka plastic pots, tubs and trays) and Tetra Pak cartons have been discounted.

“Where there has been a desire by an individual district or borough council to provide a collection point for these materials, that authority, such as Test Valley, has made its own arrangements for recycling Tetra Pak cartons.”

Meanwhile, Kathy is working on another drive to cut waste through the processing of what the local authorities deem to be non-recyclable.

With a scheme operated by Terracycle, she is taking in hard-to-recycle products including toothbrushes, crisp and biscuit wrappers, and even contact lenses, which are sent to the specialist recycler.

“A kilo brings in about £2, which we give to Oakhaven Hospice,” said Kathy.

The Tetra Pak cartons are complex to recycle because the paper card has seven layers of protection with thin layers of aluminium foil and plastic to contain liquids without contamination.

The company says: “Tetra Pak cartons are mainly made from wood in the form of paperboard (about three-quarters in weight), which gives stability and strength and acts as a good barrier to light. They also contain thin layers of plastic which provide a water-tight barrier and sealing functions.

“Our special long-life cartons also contain a thin layer of aluminium (which is thinner than a human hair) which makes them excellent at helping keep out harmful oxygen and acts as an extra barrier to light.

"This is important because exposure to light and air (oxygen) can cause food to lose its natural taste, colour, smell and nutritional value.”

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