Plastic alternatives creating more problems

Supermarkets and brands are swapping plastic packaging for materials that could be even more environmentally damaging, an investigation by the Green Alliance has uncovered.


The charity found that UK businesses are replacing single-use plastic with paper bags and compostable or wooden cutlery without fully evaluating the environmental impact.

And despite shared aims and joint commitments, some companies in the grocery sector could be hindering progress by developing their own plastic policies to gain a competitive advantage.

The investigation also found that over 80% of customers think compostable or biodegradable plastic is environmentally friendly, but that there is little understanding of what the terms mean or how the material should be disposed.

This has led to a “disjointed and potentially counterproductive” approach to tackling plastic pollution, according to the researchers, who called for more joined-up thinking.

“If we aren’t careful, short-term decisions could cause longer-term problems for establishing a true circular economy,” commented Adam Read, external affairs director at SUEZ.

"Change must be managed and planned if we’re to move towards fully closed-loop systems for recycling and, more importantly, reuse."

The investigation involved anonymised interviews with leading supermarkets, finding that plastic policies could be causing higher carbon emissions and lower packaging recyclability.

One insider said: “Consumers are hugely confused about what bio-based, compostable and biodegradable mean.”

Another is quoted as saying: “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."

The Green Alliance warned that public outrage towards plastic pollution could be directed towards other environmental problems caused by alternatives unless the government gets to grips with the issue.

Senior policy adviser on resources, Libby Peake, said: “We need to address the root of the problem, our throwaway society.

“Companies need much more help from the government to tackle plastic pollution without making climate change and other environmental impacts worse in the process.”


Image credit: ©iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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