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A clean start

The Frying Farmer in Aldbrough, Hull, has kick started the year with a campaign to go green, starting with pulling the plug on plastic straws

I think it’s pretty fair to say that David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, which showed the devastating effects our actions are having on the world’s oceans, shocked everyone who watched on and, as a result, it has already marked a huge step change in how we tackle environmental issues.

While the Chancellor called for evidence on how a possible tax on single-use reusable plastics, such as takeaway cartons, might reduce the amount that ends up in our seas, the PM followed this up with a 25-year strategy in which she plans to get rid of avoidable plastic waste within a generation.

The programme also struck a chord with Andrew Smales, an arable farmer who three years ago bought his local fish and chip shop in the village of Aldbrough, Hull. Extending and refurbishing the premises and introducing a range of locally sourced produce, he’s turned what was a small, three-day-a-week takeaway into a thriving seven-day-a-week business and given a feature to the village that was previously lacking.

However, working in the fields every day - just one aspect of Andrew’s business sees him harvest 7,000 tonnes of potatoes for McCain every year - Andrew is constantly reminded of the impact his growing business has on the environment. And although it’s an issue he has already looked to address with the introduction of biodegradable food boxes in the takeaway - a step made all the more positive by the fact these, and any other packaging waste, is sent to a facility on the farm which burns them to provide heat to dry the crops as well keep the sheds and farm buildings warm - Andrew knew he was only scratching the surface.

He comments: “The Blue Planet programme on plastics struck me really hard. The simple bottom line is, we’re buying top quality frozen at sea haddock from Iceland. It’s sustainable, it’s from a responsible fishery, but anywhere in the world plastic is getting into the seas. We can’t not be responsible day-to-day and then expect quality, main products not to be affected by our actions.”

With the business closed for four days this month to carry out essential maintenance work, it gave the team time to brainstorm some ideas and straight away it came up with the concept of “going green during 2018”. The first step was to reopen with a ban on plastic straws.

“It doesn’t sound like a big step, I know,” says Andrew, “but we serve a lot of milkshakes and kids’ drinks all with straws so this was a good a starting place as any. We now serve paper ones instead which are biodegradable.”

With the bit between his teeth, Andrew is now keen to look at other areas where he can make changes. He’s already identified the polystyrene pots he uses for the peas, curry and gravy as a target, and he’s also looking at sourcing paper carrier bags to replace the plastic ones, as well as bags for life which customers can bring in and reuse, and even researched environmentally friendly cleaning products.

“It’s not going to happen over night, but it’s started with the plastic straws and we’ll see how far we can take it, which is why we said we’re “going green in 2018,” Andrew comments.

Taking an eco-friendly approach to the business does come at a price, for example, the paper straws are seven times more expensive than the plastic ones used previously and the paper carriers are likely to be 5-10p more a bag. But, as Andrew says, it’s not just about the cost: “Economically it’s been very hard to source environmentally products, they are more expensive. But we can’t think of it purely like that, we have to think about the cost to the environment if we don’t do it. By doing this, we’re one small step towards being a more responsible employer and a responsible business and that gives us an edge and a bit of extra publicity.”

And publicity it has given the chip shop. A tweet posted up about the chippy reopening without plastic straws was picked up by BBC Radio 2 DJ David Burns and read out live on the radio. Andrew comments:

“Now, you can’t buy advertising on the BBC and David repeated it a day later. That’s all free publicity and if that gets more business in through the door, then that helps cover the cost of things like the straws.”

Andrew is aware the initiative is in its infancy but he’s excited and motivated to see where it will lead, adding: “I know we’re just one little fish and chip shop in Yorkshire, but if everybody does their little bit then you can make a major change.

“We’ve seen it with the 5p charge on plastic bags and already 90% less are being used. It shows that a very minor change can change a mindset.”

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