aware because they are taught about it at school and have seen the David Attenborough programmes. There’s a lot of pester power, so you get parents coming in and asking. We work with Porters for our bedding quite a lot and they moved to packs made from recycled plastic drinks bottles that can go straight in your household recycling. When we started telling customers about that, they were delighted and they were happy to shop that. “We’ve also had one or two customers who take their pots off and leave them behind and I had a conversation with Posi Pots who talked about setting up benches where your customer can go, use whatever you provide to wrap their plants and take the pots off and leave them and go with what they’re comfortable with. They recommended doing it at your till but I can’t see that we could possibly cope with that, so we’ll see. But there is a keen demand for it…customers are aware and they are looking for alternatives.” Mike: “There’s also an expectation from the customer that you, as a retailer, have done all the hard work and been responsible in the procurement of your products, so they are expecting you to have packaging that they can recycle themselves at home and put it in their kerbside collection each week. I think there’s a real opportunity for our staff to be informed and educated because they do get questioned all the time. “I agree with Sarah you can’t leave it to the till because we are all busy retail entities and the flow of customers is important. It is an issue where education plays a key role but I think customers really expect retailers to be sharp and procure really wisely the product which they are selling. That’s a real obligation that we, as retailers, have to manage.” Neil: “They expect us to have some policy in place and be developing it as we go along. I’m really pleased to find out that a lot of suppliers are paying attention to this. Compostable compost bags are appearing and the answers are there. I haven’t had one supplier [at Glee] not know what the answer was. That’s really good to see that there is a move within the industry.”

Do consumers change their behaviours? Do they see brands differently? Jane: “If you look at Kantar’s recently-published data, it says that consumers are now making conscious purchasing decisions based on the sustainability of the brand. They are asking a lot of questions about,

“We are also looking at ways to avoid single- use plastic and that’s not just ‘how do we recycle it’ but instead of looking at the short cycle of product, could you make some single-use plastic more durable so they can be re-used as

opposed to recycled?” Mike Lind

Monkton Elm Garden Centre

not only what is in the package, but how it is packaged, and what is the recyclability and the destiny of the product and the packaging? Customers will definitely start to vote with the pound.” Neil: “I think the public see plastics as part of the bigger sustainability picture. I don’t think any of us are going to concentrate solely on plastics but we’ve got to be on the ball and have an answer and a solution to lots of our issues, like heating and all the other materials, plus plant miles, etc. It’s a whole raft of things we need to be considering.”

Whose responsibility is that? Neil: “From our customers’ point of view, it’s ours. I don’t think they see it as anybody else’s other than a retailer’s job to get this right. I think it’s an appalling situation in the UK that local authority recycling is up to the local authority. This should be national!” Sarah: “I think we need to be pushing hard and saying ‘this is what our customers are demanding, this is what we expect from our compost or plant suppliers’. If we go to them and say we’re not going to buy it unless it’s got a taupe pot, because that’s what our customers expect it to have, and if we put it all over our social media that we’re trying to do our bit for the environment and give consumers better choices, we need the industries behind that to actually support us and run with it.” Mike: “I think the taupe pot is a really interesting concept but, from a retail perspective, the cost will increase for each plant by 30p. So, who’s going to bear the cost increase to society? If we are doing the right thing, our environmental credentials are great, we’ve got all those taupe pots there but the prices have all gone up, is the

customer going to pay that, should we, as retailer, have to adopt that? Does the industry take a stance and subsidise that. I think these are really big collective issues.

“One of our members, St Peter’s Garden centre

really wanted to

try and deal with the issue. They were discussing it with their local authority who referred them to their private contractor and they came up with a really great solution. The contractors said ‘oh if that’s the issue, we can take all different coloured pots, we can do different types of recycling’. It’s great but it shouldn’t be down to an individual retailer to have to take those steps because it’s such an inconsistent message displayed across the country.”

Is there an intervention that Government should be doing that is a bit more ‘stick’ than ‘carrot’? Should there be levies or bans? Jane: “We’re just coming to the end of the consultation period on putting a tax on plastic packaging. To avoid that tax, producers have to have a minimum of 30% recycled, which looks like a jolly good idea but, of course, that has knock-on effects on things like the clarity of a window in a plastic bag when you want to see the colour the material inside. There’s an awful lot to sort out with the detail in terms of how those taxes are actually going to work if they’re really going to drive the change that we want to see. They’re not a bad idea but I think they are a very blunt instrument. Inevitably, in the first few years, they will only partially solve the problem and will create a whole bank of new ones that will take a while to come out in the wash.” Sarah: “I think the consumers will drive the market, to a certain extent. If they are going to demand that we improve our packaging and sort out the plastic issue, I can’t see the point in putting a tax on it because there will come a time when there will be enough products available that you have the choice and they just won’t buy the ones that aren’t eco-friendly.” Neil: “There was a time when you didn’t have to wear a seatbelt in a car and there was a campaign called ‘clunk, click, every trip’. I don’t know anybody now who doesn’t wear a seatbelt now, so, I think we need to re-educate our brains, so this just become normal. That’s a lot easier than imposing a tax. “We need to get consumers and ourselves and the industry and everybody working on the process together. Collectively, we can start to make an impact and, if there’s one advantage to Brexit, it is that

the government is talking to our

industry for the first time ever and saying ‘when we leave the EU, what do you need us to do?’. I can’t ever remember that happening, so there’s a lot of power together as independents through our trade associations.” Sarah: “I also think it’s very important that we feed back to our suppliers what our customers do and don’t like. Some companies – particularly small growers - have no feedback from the people they sell their plants to on whether the public like their taupe pots and whether it was worth them doing it. We told them, ‘yes it is because that’s exactly what the public wants, so keep going with it’.” Neil: ”I believe we can always sell plants at a higher price, so I don’t think an extra 30p is going to be noticed. We’ve got a fantastic product and, actually, the green part of the plant industry – the part above the pot – is worth so much to us as a country and the world, so we need to be pushing just what an impact we are making there. I have asked if there is any research on how much impact a three-litre shrub makes on the environment and there isn’t but wouldn’t it be nice to know, when you sell 100,000 plants in a year that actually we are making a big impact in other ways too.”

As garden retailers, are you under more pressure than other sectors? Neil: “I think we’ve had quite a disproportionate amount of attention on us. There was a TV programme recently, where residents on a road were asked to lay all their plastic packaging out on the ground in front of them and, actually, the majority of it was cleansing, and health and beauty products. DIY and gardening,

when they set it down, was very small. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything but I do think we are taking a lot of flak on it at the moment but, perhaps we could be in front of everyone else – and that would be great wouldn’t it; that we, as an industry, could be able to say ‘you guys now need to catch up with what we are doing!’. Jane: “We are a green industry and the people who buy our products are interested in that, so I think they will be the first ones who want to see things moving forward. Hopefully we will be at the forefront. “Initial analysis from our recent flexible plastic packaging research shows that, of flexible bags, the garden industry is responsible for less than 4% of what goes out into the consumer world via supermarkets on things like pet food, personal care products, it’s quite small.”



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