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Anti-Plastic Rhetoric - Is the Tide Turning

This is not a staged photograph! In the Algarve, where I am currently in residence, we do not have domestic waste collection. In its place we have a series of separate communal bins, from which our separated domestic waste is collected, ours is around 200 metres or so away.

The photograph shows my Sunday morning experience. The heavy gauge ‘paper bag’ I was using to take waste to the bins had been placed on wet tiles unnoticed by myself.  As a consequence, halfway to the bins, the bag contents are no longer contained. So what is my point?

These paper bags sold in our local supermarket for 50 cents are many, many times heavier (I am guessing at 50-100) than the thin plastic bags all supermarkets previously gave away. Furthermore, they use far more of the Earth’s resources, including trees, water, and land than the thin plastic bags ever did. Moreover, they create more waste and more CO2 emissions in their manufacture and transport. In addition, they are nothing like as robust as their predecessor in plastic and not as likely to be reused.

Interestingly, in 2014 DEFRA produced a report that concluded some 75% of all plastic bags given away by the retailers were reused at least once. Their predominant reuse was for bin liners and waste disposal. Therefore, due to the decision to ban the ‘free’ plastic carrier bag, there has been an explosive growth in the sale of plastic bin liners and waste bags in multiple sizes and thicknesses. Consequently, we now use more plastic for these applications than we did when we had the ubiquitous ‘free’ supermarket plastic carrier bag. These were equally as recyclable as the paper bags which replaced them and were superior in every other way, being lower cost, and less environmentally damaging.

Nevertheless, the public now believes that paper bags being sold to them by their supermarket are somehow better for the environment, despite the fact that they then still purchase their plastic bin liners!

My little Sunday morning mishap made me reflect on how easily people have been misled by the barrage of anti-plastic rhetoric coming at them from all sides, including those supermarkets who ‘sell’ the paper bags under somewhat false pretences whilst the anti-plastic publicity continues. However, it was interesting to see recently that brands, such as ASOS, Innocent, and Juice are making the environmental case for choosing plastics, whilst Sainsbury, Waitrose, Lidl, and Tesco, among others, are supporting plastic collection and recycling initiatives.

More significantly, in January 2022 OPRL the packaging recycling label organisation, is changing its rules under the UK Plastics Pact to allow Polypropylene material (PP) to be collected ‘in store’ with PE soft plastics for recycling by the supermarkets.

As each of these developments are positive for plastic: - Is the tide turning?

As ever, any thoughts you may have on any of the items raised would be welcome.

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