Plastic packaging ban ‘could harm environment’

Consumer pressure to end plastic packaging in shops could actually be harming the environment, a report says.

Firms are swapping to other packaging materials which are potentially even worse for the environment, the cross-party Parliamentary group warns.

Glass bottles, for instance, are much heavier than plastic so are far more polluting to transport.

Paper bags tend to have higher carbon emissions than plastic bags – and are more difficult to re-use.

The change in packaging materials has been prompted by concern from shoppers about the impact of plastic waste in the oceans.

But the authors of the report, called Plastic Promises, say the consequences of using new materials have not been properly assessed.

Several supermarkets, for instance, are selling more drinks in coated cartons under the assumption that they can be recycled.

In fact, the Green Alliance says, the UK only has the facilities to recycle a third of the coated containers in circulation.

Compostable confusion

The group has been working with recycling organisations to survey shops’ anonymous responses to public anxiety about plastic polluting the oceans.

Its spokeswoman, Libby Peake, told BBC News: “A lot of shops are selling packaging described as biodegradable or compostable.

“In fact the items might only be composted in an industrial composter – and, even then, some items might not be fully digested.”

The report says: “Over 80% of consumers think biodegradable or compostable plastic is environmentally friendly, but there is little understanding of what the terms mean and how the material should be dealt with.

“Our interviewees wanted a clearer approach to where it should be used and how it should be marked to avoid confusing consumers and potentially causing more problems.”

The retailers worried that confusion could potentially harm the environment if people either put “compostable” plastic in with conventional plastic, or littered it, wrongly assuming it would biodegrade like an apple core.

Some companies that had tried using this type of plastic also suggested that the material did not degrade as expected in real world conditions.

One firm is quoted as saying: “Consumers are hugely confused about what bio-based, compostable and biodegradable mean.

“We are aware that [by switching from plastic to other materials] we may, in some cases, be increasing our carbon footprint.”

Another said: “If I could have a magic wand, I’d like to see more joined up, top-down government intervention… We would like to see government be braver.”

A different firm said: “Packaging technology innovations can be quite the competitive advantage in the current climate.”

Andrew Opie, from the British Retail Consortium, echoed calls for a clearer strategy.

He said: “All responsible retailers agree that climate change needs to be at the heart of their business, whether that is sourcing products or changing packaging.

“Plastic remains the most effective material in many circumstances – for example cucumbers wrapped in plastic last 14 days longer, reducing food waste.

“A coherent waste and resources strategy is one that prioritises reducing the environmental impact of the things we buy, not simply reducing plastic use.”

The government published its resources and waste strategy in December 2018, and has conducted initial consultations on three policies: extended producer responsibility for packaging; introducing a deposit return system for drinks bottles; and bringing in greater consistency for recycling and waste collections.

Ministers say businesses will pay for 100% of costs for dealing with material when it becomes waste, as opposed to around 10% currently.

Consultations on the three topics are expected later this year, but the timeline for their implementation remains unclear, and the government has not confirmed if the deposit return will apply to all materials and container sizes.

The government has partially banned microbeads, and a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds is set to come in later this year.

A ban on expanded polystyrene has also been mooted and the Treasury has promised to introduce a tax on plastic packaging that does not include at least 30% recycled content.

The UK has committed to adopting the EU’s Circular Economy Package, which includes much more stringent recycling targets, but has not committed to transposing the Single-Use Plastics Directive, which requires more widespread action on plastic reduction, including bans on plastic cutlery.

They have said, however, that they will meet or exceed whatever the EU does in this area.

It is also not clear if the UK will adopt the EU’s much more wide-ranging ban on microbeads.


This article was originally published on

Recent news

New York lawmakers want to ban cigarette filters

ALBANY - Get those cigarette butts outta here! A group of Democratic state lawmakers want… Read more

Do eco-friendly labels tell the truth? Companies have signa

When you see a product labeled "eco-friendly," or "environmentally sustainable," it can be tempting to… Read more

Nestle commits US$2.1bn to recycled plastic packaging pledge

Switzerland-based food and beverage giant Nestlé is to invest up to CHF2bn (US$2.1bn) in a… Read more

Could Shipping War with Walmart Force Amazon to Bid for FedEx?

For years Amazon has been eating everyone else’s lunch when it comes to e-commerce, but… Read more

State Senate Passes Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban — Again

Although plastic grocery bags are difficult to recycle, Senate Democrats are hoping to have more… Read more

Plastic pollution entangles marine life

The increasing presence of plastics in the Caribbean Sea has created an environment rife with… Read more

8 electric truck and van companies to watch in 2020

In recent months, we’ve shone attention on companies racing to bring electric aviation to the… Read more

Pickup is leading app and web integration for restaurants

Dive Brief: Restaurants have increased pickup integration on mobile apps by 6% in the last… Read more

Coca Cola's Plastic Clean Up Efforts Are a Sham, Says Greenpeace

Coca Cola has announced a new $11 million initiative to clean up rivers around the… Read more

US promises to help Vietnam clean up marine plastic pollution

The U.S. has urged Vietnam to crack down on marine waste, promising all assistance to… Read more