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The BBC War on Plastic - Volunteer companies wanted to fight back

Many thanks to everyone for your interest in my open letter to Sir David Attenborough. The response has been exceptional, with many respondents adding their views to the conversation. So much so that it has been suggested that we should approach the BBC hierarchy in an effort to encourage them to present the public with a more balanced view of the use of plastics in packaging than that previously given in their series ‘The War on Plastic’ and ‘Drowning in Plastic’.

The letter to Sir David includes references to half a dozen independent reports, all of which conclude, to a greater or lesser degree that “Plastics were the most effective material for packaging when compared to alternative materials”. The reasons they give are well known to many but can be summarised as follows.

  1. Life cycle analysis show plastic packaging generates less CO₂ emissions during their manufacture and use
  2. As a consequence, the use of plastic packaging reduces Global Warming
  3. Plastic uses less of the Earth’s resources to produce and manufacture
  4. Plastic packaging significantly reduces packaging waste

 The most common argument raised against plastics is that plastic packaging is difficult to recycle. However, in the letter to Sir David reference is made to the recent report from the European Institute of Energy and Environmental Research. This makes some key points regarding recycling, namely:

  1. The complete substitution of all EU non-Flexible Packaging with plastics would decrease the EU packaging contribution to Global Warming by 33%
  2. There would be an overall reduction in packaging waste generated in the EU of 21 million tonnes
  3. The 33% reduction in Global Warming potential occurs even if ‘no recycling of any plastic occurred’

     All figures are all non-beverage

It is remarkable that such massive savings in CO₂ emissions would be made even if zero plastic packaging was recycled, however, as plastic recycling rates across Europe vary from 35% to 63% the reduction in CO₂ emissions would be much higher than the 33% quoted.

Finally, Roger Harrabin, the BBC Environmental Analyst published an article in January 2020 headed “Plastic Packaging Ban Could harm the Environment”.

This was published on the BBC’s own website and was their analysts reporting of the findings by the Government’s Environmental Food and Rural Affairs Committee which concluded the consequences of replacing plastic with new materials has not been properly assessed. In particular, it mentions the higher carbon emissions produced when replacing plastic with paper bags. As a consequence, we know the BBC authorities are well aware of the environmental problems created by plastic replacements.

Therefore, there is a very strong case for the BBC to answer regarding its emphasis of anti-plastic bias.

My question is that if National Flexible drafted a letter to the BBC, along with a copy of the letter to Sir David, would other companies support this approach as signatories to the letter? If so, we would need the name of the company and the status of the person providing their signature. The letter would then be sent not only to Lord Hall, the Director General at the BBC, George Eustace, Minister for the Environment but also Oliver Bowden, Minister for Digital Culture and Media. Along with all the MPs on the Commons Environmental Committee.

We may be wasting our time, but the industry needs a stronger voice. The BPF do a great amount of lobbying but unfortunately it seems with little tangible effect on the media or public perceptions. If you are interested in supporting this approach please email me on



Please leave a comment using the form below

Greg Morris

I strongly believe that the other side of the story to ‘The War on Plastic’ and ‘Drowning in Plastic’ needs to be heard and the use of plastics in packaging explained and what is being done to recycle etc. Also need to get thisout on social media.

Paul Rylatt

I have a product which reduces the use of plastic bottles with up to 5 cleaning products

Shaun Harrison

I am a Packaging Manager in a Contract Manufacturer producing Cosmetic & Healthcare products. I agree that the current arguments are not based so much on fact but largely on sensationalism sparked by the BBC Blue Planet series & an overly simplistic analysis of the environmental impact that plastic packaging has. I think that there are 2 key areas that need to be considered: 1) Understanding the actual Carbon Footprint of materials that are perceived as "environmentally friendly" including a total life-cycle analysis. Difficult to do but the only way to get a realistic comparison. 2) Implement a consistent national re-cycling infrastructure with associated policies based on best practice rather than knee jerk short term political fixes like banning plastic straws or re-cycling plastic in way that actually increases its carbon footprint. Regards Shaun

Derek Ryden

As a scientist and engineer with professional experience of working in energy conservation, I am highly concerned about global warming, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, I am very disappointed by the argument presented in your article. There are environmental pros and cons to any path of action, and these have to weighed against each other - often a very difficult task, since they may manifest themselves in completely different fields of environmental concern. The recent surge in anti-plastic feeling has primarily related to issues of disposal, longevity and the effects of microplastic etc. In not even acknowledging this issue, your article is highly disingenuous. If you want to persuade people that the use of plastics has an overall beneficial effect, you need to address ALL the issues, not focus on the ones you can spin in your favour. This may take time, and it may mean sponsoring (objective) research. I am still prepared to be persuaded, but I will need to see better evidence than this. Frankly it comes over as self-serving industry propaganda. I would be happy to discuss this further, and would welcome a reply from you.

Theo Zontanos

War on plastic is based mainly on emotions and impulsive reactions driven by NGO 's among others. There is a series of objective concrete evidence proving that plastic is the cure, not the decease. We need to join forces, collect evidence, support further research and call for actions now. Substitutes of plastic packaging will kill our planet. I am at your disposal in case I can provide any assistance.

Paul L Rendle-Barnes

In just a few weeks, since the start of COVID -19 plastics has gone from being regarded as “the enemy of the planet” to “the saviour of the people” not least because it is being used to produce PPE keeping the worlds frontline workers safe. Both statements are correct, the common denominator is us humans. The focus should be on changing our mindset not to waste a valuable global commodity.

Alternative view

System change is needed, not material change. "As a consequence, the use of plastic packaging reduces Global Warming" - to reduce global warming, something needs to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - plastic manufacturing still produces CO2 and hence contributes to global warming. Many of the LCAs the plastic industry are using to claim plastic emits less CO2 alternatives are based off a shopping bag where the alternatives are a lot heavier. There are many LCAs out there where a refillable glass bottle comes out on top, or a cartonboard container. We also need to remember a key fact to this argument, packaging has such a small % contribution to a products CO2 emissions, switching from one small number to another small number doesn't make a huge overall difference. All of this talk of CO2 and global warming, we all pretend to care, but how many of us will go veggie/vegan which has a impact greater than any amount of plastic/glass/paper will make to the global CO2 concentrations?

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