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Plastic Paranoia – Is the tide turning?

There is little (if any) good news about the Coronavirus Pandemic but one startling development has occurred. Suddenly the press are beginning to appreciate the critical role plastic, particularly ‘single use plastic’, plays in all our lives. In particular, its everyday use by the NHS.

First, we had the Sunday Times article, April 26th, from Dominic Lawson, titled ‘Hail the Plastic Maker, our Hero’s true Hero’. This article not only highlighted the critical role that plastic is playing in the NHS fight against the virus, But also went on to say that whilst paper bags have the reputation of being more environmentally friendly than plastic bags, this could not be justified!

This theme was then taken further by the Daily Express who, on May 19th, had a leading article which described plastic as ‘The Unsung Life Saver’ during this health crisis. They then said SO LET’S NOT DEMONISE IT! (MY CAPITAL LETTERS).

In this article, journalist Tim Newman goes further emphasising the role of plastic in ensuring supermarket food is even more hygienic when packaged. He also calls into question the use of paper bags as a replacement for flimsy lightweight plastic bags because, as he points out, the plastic bags use far less energy and water to make and take up less space in landfill. I am not sure any environmentalist would acknowledge the latter point as a benefit, but paper bags are 4 times heavier than the plastic they replace and therefore their transportation generates 4 times the number of vehicle movements on our already congested roads.

These articles are an amazing transformation from the media’s previous approach to plastic which has been constantly negative.

Hopefully, supermarkets will take note of what they already know, that there are few, if any, benefits to the environment in replacing plastic, whether it be plastic bags, plastic trays, plastic produce wrap, or any other food packaging.   

The supermarkets are equally aware that the use of paper, board, tin or glass very rarely gives any environmental benefits compared to plastic packaging, with the exception of where food shelf life is measured in years, not weeks or months.

In fairness to the supermarkets and brand owners, they are commercial organisations responding to the demands from their customers to reduce the use of plastic, Where they fail on any objective test of their integrity is their refusal to tell their customers the truth, that any changes to alternative materials from plastic will have adverse environmental consequences.

In truth, they should stop presenting any changes as somehow environmentally beneficial and explain to their customers that whilst there may be other issues, plastic is the least environmentally damaging of packaging materials they use for food.

If the media now elects to promote a more positive plastic agenda, some of the changes made by the supermarkets, such as introducing paper bags, may be seen as simply a cynical move to exploit the publics ignorance about packaging materials, whilst claiming in some way the changes from plastic have been made to ‘Save the Environment’.

As ever, I would welcome your thoughts on any of the points made and invite you to join me on LinkedIn.




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Sandra Falcus

Wouldn't it be lovely if everyone did their own "leg work" first instead of jumping on the band wagon, if people investigated for themselves they will see where the problems are and what the real impact of plastic is whether good/bad or indifferent, and they can make their own decision based on evidence and truth.

Gregory Morris

Excellent article Barry. I have been trying to get a few PET bottles to run a few samples, Everything is sold out for hand gel, and other hand washing and cleaning products. What could be used to sustitute these? We need to be focusing on education and making people resposible for the recycling of their rubbish. I took the dog for a walk this morning and one of the lains is closed due to fly tiping and then at the entrance to the field, strewn with rubbish, drink cans foil food containers, crip packed etc. People jusr don't care, no pride in themselves or country. This needs to be stopped so all the rubbish goes to the right places for recycling generating power etc.

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