Change Alley

information, opinion, conversation

Moan Of The Week

with 3 comments


As a student of the Open University, I receive a quarterly copy of the magazine Sesame, “reaching the OU community worldwide”. The Winter 2007 edition flopped through my letter box the other day, snugly wrapped in a plastic bag. Now I’m not usually one to complain, but this struck me as a remarkable waste of resources. The OU publishes an online edition of Sesame, a PDF duplicate of the paper edition. I would be quite happy to read that, yet nowhere can I find an option to opt out of receiving the paper copy. But that’s not my main point.

Using a plastic bag to send this thing out is, well, a bit crap really. Being a meticulous sort of bloke, I weighed the thing. Several times. One bag weighs sometimes 5 grams, sometimes 10, our kitchen scales don’t get more precise than that. Let’s call it 5 for cash. Sesame goes out to “over 180,000 OU students, tutors and staff worldwide”. So that’s 180,000 x 5 grams = 900kg of plastic every quarter, 3.6 tonnes every year. All of it will end up in landfill, as there’s nothing on the bag to indicate what kind of plastic it’s made from or whether it can be recycled.

Now I understand that the OU is under pressure to keep costs down, and they’ve probably opted for the cheapest tender. But why use a bag at all? We get an endless stream of catalogs which survive the postal process quite happily without any protection. Just print name and address on the cover, frank it and send it out, and give people a chance to say they don’t want the thing. It’s not rocket science.


Written by Pete Smith

December 8, 2007 at 11:57 am

3 Responses

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  1. OK, one quick email to the circulation department and I’m being taken off the list. The nice lady had this to say about plastic:
    “We have been looking into biodegradable plastics. Unfortunately, the ones available to us ‘rot’ after a few days and produce a funny smell. I know, for many people, this is fine but we can’t risk it really. Also, it costs 3 times more..”
    Interesting about the rotting time. I wonder how many bags like that got caught in the postal strike and ended up in a smelly slimey pool on the floor. A nice contrast with the supposedly compostable packaging Sainsbury’s use for their organic veg, which is still intact in my compost bin months later.

    Pete Smith

    December 11, 2007 at 10:57 am

  2. ‘Rot after a few days’; really!? How very bizarre. Never heard of such a thing. You sure it wasn’t their science students cocking up a biodegradable packagings project. 🙂


    December 11, 2007 at 1:14 pm

  3. I’m not sure of anything, just reporting what I was told. It does sound a bit odd.

    Pete Smith

    December 11, 2007 at 2:43 pm

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