Pressure to put an end to plastic packaging in stores can even harm the environment
Pressure to put an end to plastic packaging in supermarkets and other stores can accidentally damage the environment, an independent think tank has discovered.
In their efforts to cut down on plastic use and pollution, retailers can rush to use replacement materials without fully evaluating their environmental impact.
For example, producing paper bags as a replacement for the plastic bags used to store loose products and baked goods typically requires four times the energy input.
In the meantime, there is confusion about the meaning of labels such as ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ – with packaging made from these materials that does not always break as expected.
The report, based on interviews with leading UK supermarkets and brands, calls on the government to play a more active role in tackling plastic.
Public concern about the use of plastic was reinforced by the BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary series, which emphasized the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife.
More than two years later, however, relatively little has changed, according to the British charity, the Green Alliance, which prepared the report.
Supermarkets, she added, still put the equivalent of 900 single-use packaging on their shelves for every person living in the UK.
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Pressure to put an end to plastic packaging in supermarkets and other stores can accidentally damage the environment, an independent think tank has found (stock image)
“There are people who would like us to remove plastic from the soft drinks section and replace it with something else such as glass and Tetra paks [plastic-coated paper cartons], that are not recycled [in the area], “said an anonymous interviewee.
There is, she added, “there is not much connected thinking going on.”
The representative of another brand was blunt in their assessment of the misinformation that abounds in the environmental friendliness of non-plastic single-use packaging.
“The past year really drove me crazy with companies coming and bragging about not using plastic – even if they have single-use glass and their CO2 emissions will be off the scale.”
“The public is right that they are indignant about plastic pollution,” said Libby Peake, senior policy advisor on Green Alliance resources.
“But what we don’t want is a few years later that they are furious about new environmental problems caused by the alternatives.
“We must tackle the core of the problem, our disposable society.
“Companies need much more help from the government to tackle plastic pollution without worsening climate change and other environmental impacts in the process.”
Public concern about the use of plastic was reinforced by the BBC’s Blue Planet II documentary series, which emphasized the impact of plastic pollution on wildlife. More than two years later, although relatively little has changed, the compiler and British charity warn the Green Alliance
The report ‘Plastic Promises: what the supermarket sector really does about packaging’ has been prepared by the Green Alliance for the Circular Economy Task Force, a business-led forum on resource use in the UK.
Other members of the Circular Economy Task Force are Kingfisher, PwC, SUEZ, Veolia and Viridor.
“The often fierce reactions from some buyers and brands can cause frustration for recycling companies,” said Dan Cooke, Sustainability Director at the recycling and waste management company Viridor.
Such, he adds, move “away from inherently recyclable packaging types in materials such as coated cardboard and composites that are less recyclable and that can have a worse environmental impact.”
“There is still a clear need for improved cooperation and policies to enable investments in technology and infrastructure that will sustainably increase the recycling rates for post-consumption materials.”
In their efforts to cut down on plastic use and pollution, retailers can rush to use replacement materials without fully evaluating their environmental impact. Pictured plastic single-use bags hang in the shopping area of a supermarket (stock image)
‘We cannot tackle the plastic pollution crisis simply by replacing one disposable product with another. We also have to challenge our disposable society, “says plastic Kirsten champion Friends of the Earth.
“Strong government measures are needed to reduce the huge amount of waste produced each year by giving priority to waste reduction and reuse.”
“Unless the current chaotic approach to waste and resources is radically revised, we will simply save more problems in the future.”
Part of the problem, the report warns, is that the public’s current interest in plastic pollution has led to innovations in packaging technology that can be used not only for environmental impact, but also for competitive advantage.
“Despite shared goals and joint commitments from companies in the supermarket sector, individual companies are developing their own plastic policy to gain competitive advantage,” said the Green Alliance.
“[This] could make environmental problems worse. “
Nevertheless, the report showed that many stakeholders are keen that the government plays a greater role in coordinating plastic use and setting standards to ensure more ‘connected’ thinking in the industry.
The full findings of the study were published on the Green Alliance website.
HOW MANY RECYCLING ENDS IN LANDFILL?
Every day millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the trash – and we feel that we are making a contribution to the environment.
But what we may not realize is that most plastic is never recycled, and often ends up in landfills or incineration depots instead.
Of the 30 billion plastic bottles used annually by British households, only 57 percent are currently recycled, half of which goes to a landfill, half to waste.
Most plastic is not recycled at all, and often ends up in landfills or incineration depots. About 700,000 plastic bottles per day end up as waste
About 700,000 plastic bottles per day end up as waste.
This is largely due to plastic packaging around bottles that are not recyclable.
Every year the UK throws away 2.5 billion “paper” cups, which amounts to 5,000 cups per minute.
Shockingly, less than 0.4 percent of this is recycled.
Most cups are made of cardboard with a thin layer of plastic.
This has previously caused problems with recycling, but can now be removed.
Five specialized recycling plants in the UK have the capacity to recycle all cups in our shopping streets.
Ensuring that paper cups end up in these factories and that they are not thrown away inappropriately is one of the biggest problems with recycling paper barrels.