The War on Plastic

Nowadays almost everything that you purchase contains some sort of plastic packaging- most of which cannot be recycled. It is estimated that in total, a third of plastic is put out for recycling and from this, only a third of which is actually recycled. Previously, a lot of our recycled waste was exported to countries such as China, to be turned into other goods or put into their landfill. However, since China has implemented a ban on “foreign garbage”, local councils are finding it difficult and costlier to recycle, with costs mounting up to £500,000. The obvious solution to the problem is to stop creating plastic waste, but this poses as a problem when plastic packaging appears to be the only feasible choice for manufacturers.

Plastic brings many benefits when it comes to packaging food. It is used to protect and preserve fresh foods that would otherwise have a shorter shelf-life. Food waste is minimised by using correct packaging for example, cucumbers wrapped in film last 14 days longer. Not only does it improve shelf-life, but it is also somewhat necessary in transporting goods from one place to another, protecting them for as long as possible, as well as providing a safe container for many everyday products such as shampoo and hair gels.

Food waste and plastics have serious environmental consequences, yet we are using one environmental problem to tackle another. With food waste having an even larger environmental impact than plastic packaging it is considered justifiable to use plastic to reduce food waste as the benefits seem to outweigh the negative consequences. Yes, plastic may be the cheaper and more convenient option for manufacturers, but it is not the only option. Alternatives include glass (which is easily recycled), aluminium and biopolymers. Whilst manufacturers may still need plastic for its unique properties, biopolymers are an alternative which are deemed to be more sustainable and biodegradable.

Earlier this year, a supermarket in Amsterdam, Ekoplaza, opened the world’s first plastic-free aisle with over 700 plastic-free products. Products such as rice, dairy, yoghurt, fresh fruit and vegetables will be offered at a similar price to plastic packaged goods, so will not discourage consumers to purchase. The Guardian reveals that “UK supermarkets were a major source of plastic waste, producing 1 million tonnes a year”. This shocking figure proves that supermarkets play a major part in reducing plastic waste overall with such a variety of products offering plastic-free packaging, it is clear that this can be achieved on a huge scale if manufacturers are willing to invest in biodegradable materials for the future of our planet.

Alexandra Macmillen

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