September 12, 2015

Name&Shame: confessions of an outraged environmentalist

In Adelaide's Central Market recently we discovered The Smelly Cheese Shop stall. We chatted to an English chap working there and he mentioned that they sometimes have my beloved English Cheshire cheese. We couldn't find any on their website, so my friend ordered me some Wensleydale and Red Leicester instead. It was delivered last week.

The courier handed me a large box made of polystyrene foam (aka styrofoam); so large I had trouble locating the cheeses – two 250 g pieces – amidst the packing straw (which is green and good and a million times better than foam 'peanuts') and two gel packs much larger than the cheese pieces. I suddenly had this vision of big plastic boxes carrying small pieces of cheese all over Australia, and I felt a mixture of anger and frustration and despair. Are we learning nothing from our plastic-filled birds and oceans?

So I rang The Smelly Cheese people. I told them how good their cheese was. I then expressed my concern about environmentally dodgy styrofoam: discarded polystyrene does not degrade for hundreds of years. There was a heavy silence at the other end. I asked if there was any chance of delivering future orders in, say, cardboard boxes, like our other cheese supplier does. The woman said she didn't think there was much chance of that. I explained that I would therefore not be able to place any more orders, affirming the reason why.

Instead of placating me by promising to pass on my comments, she had by now acquired the all-too-familiar defensiveness that many Aussies adopt if they perceive the faintest whiff of criticism. I explained that when I used the word 'you', I didn't mean her personally but the company. Another silence. I asked if she would pass on my comments. She agreed, but I wasn't sure she would, so I asked if it would be better to email my concerns. She sounded relieved not to be responsible, and, as it became clear she was about to get rid of me, thanked me disinterestedly for my feedback.

It's OK. I'm used to people reacting as if I'm an eccentric weirdo when I make complaints on behalf of the environment. A fruit loop. I am long past caring what people think, because I know that I am not alone and that I am right to be concerned. Next time the lady at The Smelly Cheese Shop takes a similar call, the penny might drop a little and perhaps she'll realise their packaging needs a rethink.

'The cheese man' – he's a Swiss cheese man – sends the same quantity of cheese or more in a small cardboard box with scrunched brown paper and a couple of small gel packs (more in summer). We return the gel packs to him, in one of his boxes, when we've collected enough from several orders to fill it. It doesn't take that much effort.

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