Co-op announces it will no longer sell disposable barbecues in 130 of its stores situated inside National Parks and within a one-mile radius of them following a campaign between organisations. Hannah Mitchell reports:
It’s a victory for National Park Authorities and campaigns such as the BMC’s No Moor BBQs and has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, National Park Authorities and residents across the country. Every year, the improper use and disposal of single-use barbecues causes a number of wildfires across UK moorland and rural areas. Following this spate of antisocial behaviour, the Peak District National Park Authority wrote to over 170 retailers in 2020 and 2021 requesting the voluntary withdrawal of disposable barbecue sales. The case for a blanket ban has been an ongoing discussion amongst environmental and conservation groups, with heightened urgency following the devastating blaze on Marsden Moor in West Yorkshire earlier this year, which destroyed five-square kilometres of habitat.
The rise of the ‘Great British Staycation’, a phenomenon attributed to COVID-19 restrictions on international travel, saw disproportionate numbers of first-time holidaymakers and day-trippers flocking to UK beauty spots and wild spaces as lockdowns were lifted during the summer of 2020. The mental and physical benefits of accessing these spaces are immeasurable and whilst visitors brought a much-needed boost to rural economies, damage to grass, forest and moorland perpetrated by a small minority sadly followed.
In February 2021, Lakes-based ex-Co-op employee and writer Hannah Mitchell wrote to Co-op’s head office asking them to consider halting sales of their disposable barbecue range in National Park locations after witnessing first-hand the impact of their improper use in the previous year.
“Co-op is historically an industry leader in implementing positive change. Its business is rooted in community and its stores serve a great number of tourist hotspots here in the Lakes. After what was a very profitable year for ‘local’ retailers, it seemed right that they should repay these rural communities by protecting their surroundings and livelihoods”, she says.
Co-op responded to pleas from campaigners and local authorities by implementing a point-of-sale campaign including prominent ‘Put Me Out’ branding and instructions on their packaging, as well as in-store radio guidance on how to use these products properly, endorsed by the National Fire Chiefs and Greater Manchester Fire Service. In her response to Hannah’s letter, Co-op CEO Jo Whitfield said:
“We have done a significant amount of work to educate customers on safe outdoor cooking with our ‘Put Me Out’ campaign … Our communications are both on pack and through point of sale in store and a real call to action to ensure that safety is paramount when customers use our products.”
Scenes from Birchen Edge in March 2021 on the BMC Instagram
Despite Co-op’s laudable efforts, as the Easter Holidays approached and the weather improved, reports of abandoned disposable barbecues causing injury to nature and people, damage to property and devastating fires became all too frequent across the Peak District, Lakes, Yorkshire Moors and other UK beauty spots.
“Co-op’s ‘Put Me Out’ campaign felt like a real triumph for many. As a company for whom members and colleagues play an integral role, it was incredible for myself and others to feel heard. Sadly as it transpired, it just wasn’t quite enough,” says Hannah.
Hannah stepped up her campaign in the Lakes with the support of her store and regional managers, calling upon local MP Tim Farron who separately addressed the issue with Co-op in response to her plea. In May, Hannah wrote directly to CEO of Co-op’s food division, Jo Whitfield, once again asking that Co-op consider withdrawing its single-use barbecue range from sale in protected locations. The letter was also signed by the BMC’s Access and Conservation Officer Dr Catherine Flitcroft and founder of grassroots clean-up campaign The Lakes Plastic Collective, Nicola Bolton.
Co-op had by now begun to review its replenishment of stock in six stores within one mile of the New Forest in response to requests from campaigners and shortly after, made the decision to extend this to all National Parks. Jo Whitfield said:
“We do however realise our responsibility in this space … we are taking further action to work with stores within one mile of park spaces to review the risk in these stores and making localised decisions about where to halt further replenishment.”
Co-op announced in a press release on Tuesday 15 June that it would withdraw sales of instant barbecues from their stores situated in or within a one-mile radius of National Parks throughout the UK Co-op stated in its press release that:
“Millions of instant barbecues are sold every year and are safely used and enjoyed by the vast majority of people, however many National Parks and some landowners have introduced a ban on their usage. The convenience retailer has made this announcement to help consumers, who will often purchase the instant BBQs on the way to visit these beauty spots, to support these local bans.”
Dr Catherine Flitcroft, BMC Access and Conservation Officer, said: “It’s fantastic to see a retailer take the issue seriously and we really hope this campaign gains more traction and more retailers follow suit. The BMC’s NoMoorBBQ campaign has also been supported by over 1,000 members who have taken the time to write to their MP asking for BBQs to be banned in moorland settings and I will be following this up with a number of MPs in the next month. It’s about time this issue was taken seriously, more shops and retailers took this seriously and took an active in helping to protect our beautiful spaces – the mantra should be to take sandwiches not sausages.”
WATCH: No Moor BBQs on BMC TV
Whilst landowners are at liberty to implement discretionary bans on barbecues and fires and Public Space Protection Orders are in force in some local authority areas, the BMC continues to campaign for a blanket ban on the use of disposable barbecues on open moorland through its ‘No Moor BBQs’ campaign. Going forward, Hannah hopes that other retailers will now take action and that Co-op’s ban will start to see the message getting through to would-be barbecue buyers.
“Whilst I accept that this move won’t stop people from buying disposable barbecues elsewhere or bringing them in from outside the Park, the fact that this has now been highlighted as an issue that is important enough for Co-op to stop sales of these products hopefully reinforces the danger associated with them and their improper use. This move also lessens availability, therefore mitigating potential damage to our precious wild spaces so that they can be enjoyed by everyone for years to come,” she says.
“This fantastic move by Co-op will hopefully see other chains follow suit by acting responsibly and encouraging customers to choose safer, more sustainable options, or better still – to leave the barbecue at home.”
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