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The 'War on Plastic' - is the tide turning?

An interesting report from the influential Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee has suggested that switching from plastic packaging to alternative materials such as paper, glass or aluminium is not only likely to generate more carbon emissions and thus add to global warming, but also that the use of these alternative materials increases transport on our roads due to the extra weight alternatives, plus the fact that more packaging waste is generated.

The Royal Society of Chemistry provided evidence that included some figures highlighting the scale of the potential increase in greenhouse gas emissions and packaging waste. Equally interesting, they called into question the substitution of plastic packaging by compostable and biodegradable materials.

In their opinion the increasing use of these substitutes has negative environmental consequences such as;

a) The UK has no infrastructure to handle compostable waste in bulk

b) There is confusion in the mind of the public as to where compostable and biodegradable packaging fits into the waste disposal system

c) Biodegradable substitutes to plastic packaging ‘contaminate’ the waste stream as they cannot be recycled

As a consequence, the committee recommended that the focus should be on elimination of as much as possible single use packaging. This is an eminently sensible conclusion which places the emphasis squarely on the conservation of the Earth’s resources rather than their indiscriminate exploitation.

Interestingly, also included in the report, is comment on the excessive demand for water created by the manufacture of paper, cotton, bio and compostable packaging, a feature which is often neglected by the proponents of manufacturing and recycling of these materials.

It is essential that we have technically viable packaging on many food products if we are to prevent food waste. But probably the least environmentally demanding solutions are to be found in developing improved plastic film technology allied to clearer packaging identification, collection and recycling.

Whilst the committee does not go so far as to recommend an overall solution of this nature, logically if we eliminate as much single use packaging as possible then that which remains will need to be the most practical and effective at preserving the pack contents for as long as possible in an edible condition, thus reducing food waste.

Of equal interest is the accelerating development of packaging films in new Oriented PE polymers (OPE) allied to coatings suitable for recycling and National Flexible now have a selection of recyclable single web and laminated OPE films. Another interesting area of development is the integration of additives within the inner sealing layer to improve the film barrier properties.

We do of course successfully supply the alternative packaging materials mentioned in this report, but the question is, will this report see a change in emphasis from plastic demonization to overall packaging reduction and a more realistic attitude to plastic packaging where it is essential.

As ever I welcome your views on any of the items raised and invite you to join me on LinkedIn.



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