Unpacking the alternatives to plastic packaging
What are the alternatives to plastic packaging?
Last night a great new series started called War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita. I went onto Twitter afterwards. Lots of people were commenting things, like why can’t we use paper bags, or compostable packaging or glass bottles and tins instead of plastic? People know there must be alternatives to plastic packaging.
I think it is fantastic that the problem of plastic is being highlighted. Let’s not call to replace one problem with another though. Food waste was also not mentioned at all in the program.
Firstly packing produce in plastic is done deliberately to extend the shelf life of a product. Sometimes it is filled with special gases, or given just the right amount of ventilation. It means that food can sit on the supermarket shelves longer before being sold and means less food waste at the supermarket end of things. If supermarkets got rid of this packaging, they would have to rethink how they keep food fresh. They would have to put less food out on the shelves. It would probably mean that they would need more regular deliveries and that the food wouldn’t last as long when it gets home. We might have to go shopping more often.
Not all produce needs the packaging though and sometimes there is some really unnecessary packaging e.g. when a fruit with a skin is peeled and then wrapped, or carrots are chopped and then packaged, or when there is more packaging than actually needed. So supermarkets should focus on reducing that first and we can chop our own carrots and peel our own fruit!
Also it would be great to have fairer priced unpackaged food in a wider range of options!
What is the problem with other packaging types?
Why can’t we just replace plastic with another type of material? Well anything we swap for is replacing one problem with another.
- Glass is made from sand, which is a finite resource.
- Compostable packaging is often only biodegradable in a commercial composter, not in your back garden and not in landfill as recently highlighted by the Telegraph.
- Paper bags are more energy intensive to produce than plastic ones and we have enough problems with deforestation already!
- Tins and cans are often plastic lined!
What to use instead of plastic?
What can we do instead? I think the best solution is to bring your reusable bags and containers. BUT they need to be long lasting and reused a lot of times. Take a look at this handy table which shows how many times different bags of diferent materials need reusing . It recommends avoiding organic cotton bags. They need reusing a whopping 20,000 times to compare with the ‘reuses necesssary to have the same cumulative environmental impact (water use, energy use, etc) as a classic plastic bag!’
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