How many of us visiting the Packaging Innovations Show last week came away more confused than when we went in?
We were presented with packaging that was Recyclable, Compostable, Sustainable, Biodegradable and Environmentally friendly all were on show. For me, the winner of the most descriptive ‘end of life solution’ was the foreign exhibitor who claimed, ‘All their packaging was 100% disposable!!’ When I approached the stand for an explanation of just what this meant, the salesman’s response was ‘I am sorry I don’t know, I am not technical!’ – but at least he was honest!!
Which is more than could be said for many of the claims made by so many other exhibitors. Whilst claiming to be more environmentally beneficial than plastic none indicated clearly just how the user was supposed to find a waste collection system to accommodate their various products. Neither did any of those promoting their ‘plastic replacement’ alternatives highlight that one of the consequences of replacing the current plastic packaging would be an increase in Global warming due to the additional Co2 emissions generated.
Nor did anyone highlight the increase in packaging waste or indeed the extra depletion of the Earth’s resources when changing to their inevitably heavier alternative esoteric materials.
In summary, what was on display on many stands was a populist knee jerk response to the issue of Plastic Pollution that was highlighted by Sir David Attenborough in the BBC ‘Blue Planet II’ and the subsequent BBC follow up programme ‘War on Plastic’. The unintended consequences of which has been to create an industry focus on finding alternatives to the use of plastic packaging, rather than focus on the real problems which we all know are the collection, separation and recycling of plastic.
Fundamentally, these are not particularly complex problems and the solutions are well within the scope of our current technology and cost:
For example, a recent report by Axion Consulting analysed post-consumer flexible plastic waste (not bottles) and found approx. 38% was Mono PE and a further 15% Mono PP. These two materials, as in Germany, could be mechanically recycled together, immediately increasing UK current plastic recycling levels by Circa 400%.
Those plastics not easily mechanically recycled can be chemically recycled or back into oil. As a consequence, there is no need to replace plastic, but we do need to stop exporting plastic waste. To achieve both targets we need the Government to direct the 400 councils to agree on a uniform collection system, whilst at the same time, demand that the plastic packaging industry introduces a colour code system, green for single web PE/PP – red for the rest. Thus, solving the collection and sorting problem.
They should then set a time scale for the collection scheme to be fully operational, (3 years), meanwhile encourage the public to return all the ‘Greens’ to the supermarkets from where they came. The supermarkets would undoubtedly welcome the chance to contribute to recycling, particularly as this enables them to stop using more expensive paper bags, board and compostable plastic which they know better than most simply add to packaging waste as well as Global Warming.
In addition, we must stop exporting plastic waste. Currently, the flexible packaging industry pays £300 million to dispose of it’s waste, much of this money goes to exporters.
We should give 1 years notice, then reduce plastic waste exports by 25% year 1, then 50%, 75%, 100% years 2 to 4. This would keep all the £300 million in the UK and encourage investment in the UK mechanical and chemical plastic recycling infrastructure.
Finally, Easyfairs had cardboard covered steel chairs in their ‘Sustainable’ area. The board would undoubtedly be single use, whilst comparing the carbon footprint of manufacture of steel chairs against plastic hardly bares thinking about. This was greenwash at its most blatant. (Thanks to Steph Preston Plastics!)
As always should you have any thoughts on any of the items raised, I would welcome your views and meanwhile, why not join me on LinkedIn for more regular contact. https://www.linkedin.com/in/barry-twigg-3a440b53/