Review: Hugh’s War on Waste


Image: Gus Palmer/Keo Films/BBC

Hugh’s War on Waste returned for a third episode on Thursday evening. The first two episodes had aired a while ago and looked at food waste, especially the ridiculous cosmetic standards supermarkets impose on farmers for vegetables. This episode was partly a follow-up, but mainly tackled other issues such as coffee cups and packaging.

If you haven’t seen the episode yet you can watch it here:

First question on my mind was ‘Have supermarkets changed?’ Hugh found there had been some improvements, including Morrisons, M & S, Aldi, Lidl and Co-Op all introducing more wonky veg or relaxing standards. Now it is our responsibility as consumers to purchase these less than perfect looking vegetables to make their sale go mainstream. It’s criminal in this day and age to be throwing away perfectly good food.


Image: Getty

Coffee Cups

Next up on Hugh’s agenda was coffee cups, mainly those produced by Costa, Caffe Nero and Starbucks.

FACT: We throw away 2.5 billion cardboard cups a year.

I am going to admit I had no idea that coffee cups weren’t recyclable, although that’s more to do with the fact I don’t really drink coffee. The programme showed me I was far from alone in thinking this. Why can’t coffee cups be recycled? Don’t they say they can be on them? Well yes and no. They CAN be recycled, although currently in the UK there is only one facility that can do this, so hardly any will be making their way there to be recycled! They are also coated with polyethylene. In the recycling process this stops the cardboard from being reduced to small enough pieces to be usable. Hence, most coffee cups can’t actually be recycled.

The technology does exist to produce more mainstream recyclable coffee cups. Hugh visited an inventor who had created a coffee cup with a simple plastic lining. When sent for recycling the cup would easily dissolve in water and the liner could be caught.

Hugh drove round on a red London bus covered in coffee cups, spreading the message. It’s frustrating that it took this sort of action for them to reply to his emails asking for an interview. Starbucks said they would increase the discount for those using their own cups, but this has since stopped. Clearly just them trying to avoid a PR disaster. They even said they had a goal to make cups 100% recyclable by 2015 on their website. Ha! It is apparent that all coffee shops have become masters of greenwashing on their websites. They hope that sounding eco-friendly will convince customers they are trying. Thanks to Hugh we know they really aren’t!


Image: BBC


FACT: The UK generates 10 million tonnes of packaging waste a year

Just one word: Amazon. The amount of customers that Amazon has in the UK must be phenomenal, so no wonder Hugh set his sights on tackling them. They have a machine that is supposedly meant to work out the optimum packaging that they should use. Either there is something very wrong with that machine or they don’t have a wide enough range of box sizes. Hugh even showed the products could fit in other box sizes they had. They flew in their US head of global sustainability, but I personally think it was all for show. She reeled out the usual ‘all our boxes can be recycled and they are mostly made of recycled materials’. As an environmental scientist I felt these sort of statements completely missed the point. We all learn ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. In fact the UK government has a 5 step waste hierarchy. Clearly Amazon think they are doing well on the recycling part, but they should focusing on reduce. Less resources used in the first place can only benefit everyone.

Amazon said they are trialling a new ‘Box on demand’ machine, that cuts the box according to the products in the order, but we can only wait to see if anything comes of it.

All in all, a fantastic programme. Thank you Hugh and the BBC. Not really sure what we would do without celebrities such as Hugh to bring these issues to the attention of the public. Now it is over to us, to keep the pressure on businesses to reduce waste and show we are willing to put our money where our mouth is.

Relevant links:

New posts coming soon

It has been a while since we last posted a series of posts as a team so we thought it was high time to get our act together.

In the coming months we shall be posting on a range of subjects all key to understanding how the environment will fair in the UK post-Brexit. We shall be spotlighting MPs, many newly appointed to the Cabinet by our new PM Theresa May, and definitely touching upon the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Their background prior to being assigned their new roles will be analysed as this if often a good indicator of what they will be like in office. We hope to cover topics including farming, fisheries, forestry, climate change and energy to name a few. In addition to these series of posts there may be reviews of TV programmes that focus on the environment. Personally, I am hoping to watch the latest installment of Hugh’s War on Waste (this evening at on BBC One at 9pm for those interested). Stay tuned!