Make it easy on ourselves

Dick SearleI’m looking forward to tomorrow, February 29th, at the NEC, Birmingham, when the easyFairs organisation opens up another Packaging Innovations show.

It’s a clear and simple show, well designed and confidently presented, that has stuck to its colours over the years and does the industry much service. Just after high noon I shall follow Recoup onto the seminar podium and will talk about the current notions of extended producer responsibility, EPR. Oh yes, the EPR idea has its own acronym now…

The great thing about an acronym is that it already implies and assumes a familiar and proven body of know-how, method and science. Experienced folk, however, will be alert to the presence of an anxious and not-so-subtle agenda trying to get legitimate.

If EPR is trying to become part of common parlance I am glad, since the only place left for ‘producer responsibility’ to go is one that closes the loop on the behaviour and responsibility of the consumer.

Indeed why consumer responsibility in these matters has gone AWOL for so long is a little bit mysterious. We may as well ask the question positively. What is consumer responsibility? The silence is rather deafening eh?

Basically, consumers/voters have always needed their politicians and leaders to promise ever more goods and services. Politicians have always wanted to do so, whatever the reality. It’s the model we have clung to for some time now – and the system is now seriously challenged and overheating in a number of well known areas.

In the meantime poor old packaging – not product and not the cause of growth, but merely symptom and reminder – continues (less and less I am happy to report) to be regularly dragged out and blamed as the totem of this consumption.

Take one simple step back and it’s obvious that these consumer delivery systems of ours are the least of our global problems. How about unlimited consumption? population growth? political systems in freefall? limited resources? unsustainable human and social behaviours? (including litter) – these are the problems that require mature and balanced reasoning and social leadership.

My Feb 29th NEC address will not stray far at all from the central questions of responsibility; namely who is responsible and how and why. The truth is that for some time policymakers and legislators have been pretending with one eye that consumers are not part of the picture.

This is denial, plain and simple. It helps to create a distorted and inaccurate picture. Consumers – via price, competition and choice – are the prime movers of economies and producers. Anyone in any market place can see that.

We are therefore all long overdue a realistic and holistic view of the total picture; one that starts from the position that responsibility is a shared activity for producers and consumers alike. The benefit and outcomes from that kind of joined-up thinking could make it all so much easier on ourselves.

The Packaging Federation looks forward to helping make it happen.

Many thanks again

Dick Searle