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Supermarkets remove 3,400 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging as part of Plastic Pact

Updates from The UK Plastics Pact annual report show progress in the fight against single-use plastic - including Supermarkets removing 3,400 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging - but how can others follow in their footsteps? Andrea Falco provides comment on how businesses can continue the good work.

It’s undeniable that we’re facing a global climate emergency. Infiltrating everyday life, our use of single-use plastic is now accelerating the crisis at a dramatic pace.

Every year in the UK, it’s estimated that five million tonnes of plastic is used - nearly half of that is packaging. Alarmingly, one third of plastic produced globally is not recyclable, meaning it’s then sent to landfill or ends up in our natural environment. As plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade and break down into microplastics, the chemicals produced thus have an extremely harmful impact on our marine life, natural world and health.

To combat this issue, companies across the nation are doing all in their power to improve sustainable efforts by signing up to the Plastics Pact. Led by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), this is the first in a global network of pacts, working towards the circular economy for plastics. By 2020 it aims to have all plastic packaging reused, recycled or composted by meeting four world-leading targets. Over 140 manufacturers, including Asda and P&G have already signed up.

Although this is a huge step in the right direction, immediate action is still required from all, but in particular from packaging plants, distribution centres and retailers in setting their own targets and investing in the right environmental technologies to eliminate single-use plastic.

Microplastics contaminate the food we eat

With millions of tonnes of microplastics being discarded into the environment every year, it’s no surprise that the material is now contaminating the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Although we’re all aware of its harmful impacts, the plastic industry is still the second largest and fastest-growing source of industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and 99% of what goes into the material is derived from fossil fuels.

Currently, GHG emissions from the plastic lifecycle, which includes the transport of fossil fuels for production, its manufacture and waste management, are threatening the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C degrees. With fossil fuel companies looking to increase plastic production by 40% in the next decade this will only continue to exacerbate, and as some have claimed, create a “near permanent contamination of the natural environment”.

Mismanagement and inappropriate disposal are now resulting in more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste entering our oceans and environment every year – it’s even been found in the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest place on earth. A study has also revealed that plastic at the ocean’s surface continually releases methane and other greenhouse gases, and that these emissions increase as the material further disintegrates. 

Supermarkets lead the way

The Plastics Pact is fighting to transform the way the UK uses, makes and disposes of single-use plastic and our supermarkets are leading the way in tackling the problem. 

Last year, WRAP reported that supermarkets had already removed 3,400 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging from fresh produce – the equivalent of 272 London buses – and 137.5m plastic stickers from fruit and vegetables. Stores such as Morrisons and Co-op have also removed black plastic (which cannot be recycled) from all of its own brand food and drink packaging. 

Beauty brands such as Unilever and Dove are also stepping up by moving to 100% recycled plastic bottles in Europe and North America – across all their ranges. To encourage recycling, soft drink brands such as Pepsi and Tango have also added a ‘please recycle me’ message to their bottles. 

Aside from the pact, a number of other initiatives, such as the government’s Resource and Waste Strategy and New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, have been put in place to address plastic waste. In a bid to encourage distributors to consider their packaging practices, in April 2022, the government will be introducing a ‘plastic tax’ on packaging that includes less than 30% recycled material. 

However, it’s not only on the onus of the government and Plastics Pact members to tackle the issue. As the plastic problem is a global disaster, all businesses and organisations should be stepping up to their responsibility by setting their own targets.

A more circular method

It’s simple – to reduce our plastic intake, ‘throwaway culture’ needs to change. Businesses need to move towards a more circular model that encourages individuals to view plastic as a renewable resource that should be kept in our economy and out of the natural environment.

The key to this is to examine and refine waste management practices. Investing in lasting environmental technologies will dramatically reduce your carbon footprint and decrease the amount of waste going to landfill. So not only will you be saving on the landfill tax, you’ll also be protecting our planet for future generations. 

Balers can improve internal waste management systems by compressing the volume of waste by up to 95%. Compacting waste into unmixed bales, optimised for transportation helps to reduce emissions and running costs. Baling is also valuable as it’s likely to generate a return on investment on your waste when collected by recycling centres. 

Cardboard perforators are ideal for those seeking quick and easy plastic packaging alternatives. Transforming waste into free biodegradable packaging material, this machine eliminates the need to use single-use plastic packaging, such as bubble wrap and saves the amount of waste going to landfill. 

Aside from this, distribution centres and packaging plants should consider how they can improve their own internal recycling procedures. For example, all businesses have a duty of care to ensure that they are using a responsible waste collector. It should also be a constant goal to encourage employees to continue waste management practices as it’ll improve your companies’ green credentials, and thus its public reputation.  

Change requires high levels of investment and innovation, which cannot be done by the Plastics Pact members alone. So, as manufacturers and distributors across the nation unite to eradicate single-use plastic from our everyday life, make sure your business does not get left behind in this battle.

As a global shift has to come from the top up – all manufacturers and distributors should be taking the initiative by starting with the simple act of re-evaluating waste management practices and invest in long-term environmental technologies.
 

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