It’s a question that I had never thought about. Until last week. Rice. “The most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in Asia” – Wikipedia. In 2014, we produced 741.5 million tonnes of the stuff. And, as far as I’m concerned, rice has always been a quick and straightforward product to cook.
Apparently not! It would seem that 15-20 minutes in a pan of boiling water is not quick enough. In a world where many of us are too busy too sit down and eat a meal, I don’t really know why it should surprise me that so many people choose a 2-minute microwaveable pouch of rice.
But it does.
This all came about in a lesson with my Year 12 class last week. How the topic of rice came up is anybody’s guess, but it did. My students were telling me that they use microwaveable rice pouches instead of boiling rice in a pan. Boiling rice takes too long, is a faff, makes a messy saucepan to clear up afterwards. In the words of one of the girls, “who actually cooks rice anyway?”. I was certainly put in my place!
So I had a little chat with my colleagues, only to find that the rice pouch phenomenon is more widespread than just my students. Everyone’s at it! In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is the norm.
I was, quite frankly, horrified. But I decided I needed to do a bit more research before I blogged about it.
I popped into the Co-op on my way home this evening to have a quick look at these pouches. I was assuming that they are not recyclable – they certainly aren’t where I live – but I wanted to check. On the back of the packets was no mention of the packaging and whether or not it can be recycled, let alone whether recycling facilities widely exist.
But it did have this on it:
The Green Dot!
Now then, I always thought this meant that the packaging was recyclable. But no! I have been misled all this time. While listening to the wonderful Plastic Fantastic on Radio 4, I discovered that this symbol has nothing to do with recycling. All it means is that the manufacturer of the product contributes to the cost of recovery and recycling. It does not relate to this particular piece of packaging.
So, back to the rice pouches. I got home and had a little google, trying to find out if rice pouches are recyclable or not, and I hit a blank. Lots of companies telling me how green and ethical they are, but no mention of these pesky pouches!
But then I found it, on the Ocado website: “Pouch – not recyclable”.
This was just one brand, but I have assumed that the pouches are fairly similar regardless of brand.
So now I’m horrified on two counts – one, that people genuinely feel they are so busy that 2-minute microwave rice is even a thing, and two, another piece of packaging with the words “not recyclable”.
To me it is logical. No manufacturer should be producing goods in packaging on which we see the words “not recyclable”. It just seems like the height of irresponsibility to me.
So, if you are reading this, next time you pick up a product which is labelled “not recyclable”, put it back and find an alternative. OK, so it may take you 10 minutes longer and mean you have to wash up a dirty pan, but you might find you actually enjoy slowing down and reconnecting with your food again. And if, like me, you have some of this packaging still lurking in your cupboards, when you are done with it, send it back to the manufacturer with a polite note requesting that they look into more sustainable packaging.
These may all seem like little steps in a hugely long journey, but if enough people demand change then change will come, one rice pouch at a time.