David Attenborough’s 2017 TV show Planet Earth II showed the issues caused by plastic waste. Even if you haven’t seen it, you can’t have escaped the whirlwind that has followed since it aired. The focus of this ‘plastic debate’ has revolved around single use plastic products such as drinking straws (remember the turtle in the last episode of Planet Earth II?), carrier bags, plastic bottles and other food packaging.
While this debate has drawn attention to how plastic waste is disposed of by consumers, and how long it takes to break down, it has also highlighted the sheer volume of packaging products that use plastic.
So is plastic waste a problem for your company? The answer is probably yes, and certainly for your clients if your business sources plastic packaging on their behalf.
In this blog post we look at why plastic waste should be on your company’s agenda, and what you can do to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfill and our seas.
Why do we have so much plastic waste?
With pressure coming from consumers and lobbying groups to reduce plastic waste, many companies are looking for viable alternatives. With the right solutions they have an opportunity to demonstrate that they’re addressing the issue and taking responsibility for the environmental impact of their products.
However, there’s a reason that plastic is so widely used, and that comes down to cost and versatility.
Here’s a brief overview of why plastic has become such a significant problem for all of us.
How plastic waste is disposed of
Many people believe that once plastic items are disposed of, they’re transported to sites for sorting and recycling. This is surely how it works?
Unfortunately, this is very rarely that case. Here’s are some quick facts on plastic disposal:
- Less than 1/3 of plastic is recycled in the UK, most plastics are not recyclable.
- Most plastics enter landfill or is shipped across the world to live out its days in someone else’s landfill.
- It takes approximately 450 years for plastic to break down.
- It has been said that every bit of plastic that has ever been created is still on earth.
- Since 1950, 8 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced. That’s a scary amount of plastic to think about.
Plastic recycling is still in its infancy and we have a long way to go before a measurable dent is made to the tonnes of plastic piled up around the world.
Even when recycled, plastic can only be used 2-3 times before it is no longer a viable material. Once the molecules have been moulded and remoulded a few times it can no longer be used for production. Unlike materials like paper and wood that can be used over and over again.
So even if we could recycle every bit of plastic, it wouldn’t solve the problem, it would all still exist.
Unlike biodegradable material such a paper, plastic doesn’t disappear. It doesn’t biodegrade, it is still present as micro plastics.
What is wrong with plastic waste staying in landfill?
There are many problems with plastic sitting in landfill:
- It doesn’t all stay in landfill, it migrates to surrounding areas and waterways,
- Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it may weaken over time but never disappears,
- Scientists have discovered plastic produces gasses when in a landfill environment which can contribute to climate change,
- Landfills do not have infinite space, one day they will all be full,
- When plastic breaks down tiny particles, ‘micro plastics’ as they are known, cause harm to wildlife.
Plastics in our seas
The real plastic tragedy, highlighted by David Attenborough, is the effect plastic waste has on our seas and marine life. It is estimated by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Shocking to think that animals which have lived in these waters for thousands, sometimes millions of years, are slowly being killed off by plastic pollution.
It’s not just those in the water that are feeling the effects either. Many animals that live alongside our oceans are struggling too. The stomachs of seabirds, for example, are being found to contain large amounts of plastic, including bottle tops and cigarette lighters.
Plastic is even finding its way in to our food, research has found that nearly all fish and sea food tested contained varying amounts of micro plastics. Research into the toxins and effects of plastic consumption by humans is still ongoing, but even if proven to be nontoxic, do you really want bits of plastic in your meal?
So what can we do to help reduce the plastic waste problem?
Until viable alternatives are developed that offer the cost savings and versatility of plastic, it would be highly impractical and damaging to our economies to stop using plastic altogether.
We should, however, limit its use where it is not needed and where there are real alternatives.
We live in a quick fix, throwaway world now where everything must be easy access and super quick. Ready meals, takeaway food, coffee on the go, pre-chopped vegetables. We want everything prepared and ready to use the minute it’s picked up.
Not surprisingly ‘single use’ plastic is the main target for reducing plastic waste and our reliance on this material.
Sandwich boxes, coffee cups, plastic drinks bottles, food cartons, straws and plastic cutlery, in many cases needlessly contain plastic, which is used once and then disposed of.
Consumers and companies need to be more aware of what is contained in the products we buy and sell. We should also be more open to alternative materials and really think about the things we use every day, such as food packaging.
We can adopt some of the ‘old ways’ such as food wrapped in paper or cloth, drinks in glass bottles that can be reused or recycled more effectively; and we can also explore plastic free food packaging alternatives.
Plastic free packaging
Alternatives that are competitively priced and offer many of the advantages of plastic packaging are available, such as:
- Plastic free packaging films
- Biodegradable plastic free coatings
- Direct food contact board
- Ovenable board materials
These materials do the job they’re designed for just as well as plastic does, and they also provide companies with an opportunity to demonstrate their corporate environmental responsibility credentials too.
Consumer awareness of the issue of plastic waste means that there’s significant demand for more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives. By using plastic free solutions companies can differentiate their businesses and build loyalty with consumers too.
We cannot solve the plastic waste problem overnight; it’s not feasible to stop using plastic altogether. However, when alternatives do exist we have an opportunity to reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate as individuals and as companies.
- Consumers want plastic free alternatives,
- Companies want to be more environmentally responsible.
Book a plastic free audit with Chapelton to explore how you can reduce the amount of plastic your company generates through your choice of packaging products. Contact us today.