Report warns against non-plastics material assumptions

The use of non-plastics materials in the packaging industry could be harming the environment because they have not been properly assessed, claims a cross-party Parliamentary group report.

The report points to assumptions being made by supermarkets, for example, which are selling more drinks in coated cartons in the belief that they are recyclable. In reality only a third of those containers are being recycled.

Other assumptions include supermarkets selling “biodegradable” or “compostable” packaging, which in reality might only be composted in an industrial composter. A vast majority of consumers do not understand what the terms actually mean.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability for the British Retail Consortium (BRC), told BBC News that plastics remain the most effective materials in many circumstances and that a coherent waste and resources strategy should be the priority.

The UK government is launching consultations later this year on three policies including extended producer responsibility for packaging, the introduction of a deposit return system, and greater consistency for recycling and waste collections. A key development will be that businesses will be responsible for 100 per cent of costs for dealing with material when it becomes waste, as opposed to the current 10 per cent.

Consumer comments in response to this report were enlightening, and one particular online commentator stated: “Most plastics packaging is potentially recyclable. It isn’t all recycled because: Composite packaging is technically challenging; it isn’t collected terribly well; segregation is technically challenging; end market values are variable; local authorities range from adequate to useless; consumers are confused and often disengaged; and the industry isn’t innovative.”

Perhaps the latter point is more a result of consumers not being privy to the fantastically innovative work being done by the plastics industry behind the scenes. Perhaps industry needs to communicate this more.