Paper bags could exacerbate bread waste, particularly in wake of coronavirus panic purchasing

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages/fongfong2
Pic: GettyImages/fongfong2

Related tags: We Seal, Food waste, Wrap, Bread, Recyclable materials

The environmental impact is unlikely to be at the forefront of some consumers’ minds at the moment, but the pandemic has had a huge impact on food waste in the UK, according to packaging experts We Seal.

WRAP estimates that, in the UK alone, more than £19bn worth of food is wasted annually, contributing to more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

The current crisis has intensified this, with the rush to stockpile meaning a tendency to overbuy, leading to a significant increase in the amount of fresh food thrown away, particularly bread.

“Food waste is a vastly overlooked driver of environmental damage and climate change and is something that we work hard to reduce through our innovative sealing solutions,”​ said Richard Hobson, CEO of We Seal, which makes the bread bag seals for 95% of the nation’s branded and supermarket loaves.

“Due to increased demand for loaves in the current panic-buying climate, bakeries are increasing production by 20-30% or more.

“In times of crisis, consumers tend to simplify what they eat, so it makes sense that bread is at the top of the list of food products people are stockpiling. But, when bread is already wasted at an alarming rate, these figures make for worrying reading.”

He added that, at the other end of the spectrum, there are already reports from the waste industry of higher levels than the typical Christmas peak.

“This is particularly concerning at a time when people should be being more careful about what they eat and throw away, given the government’s guidelines on infrequent shopping during lockdown,” ​added Hobson.

“The nation is in crisis mode but we can’t forget the long term impact of our decisions on the environment.”

Plastic versus paper

Recent recycling research conducted by We Seal, as part of its rebrand from Select Bag Sealers, revealed that 49% of Brits would prefer bread to come in a paper bag, rather than the familiar low density polyethylene bags.

We Seal is passionate about sustainability and recycling, and takes its role in the war against single use plastics very seriously. However, it believes moving to paper bags could exacerbate the issue of food waste even further.

Hobson explained, “While consumers instinctively feel like paper bags would be more environmentally friendly, in reality, that’s simply not the case.

“There are a number of reasons why paper has a larger impact on the planet than the recyclable plastic currently used in bread bags, but one key driver is that paper is porous, which means the bread goes staler faster than plastic, ultimately leading to more waste.

“The small, plastic seals created by We Seal to secure the loaf of bread are resealable, ensuring that the loaf stays fresher for longer, helping to reduce the issue of food waste.”

Only 20% of Brits recycle plastic bread bags, according to the company’s research, with 46% of believing they aren’t recyclable and 30% not knowing if they are or not.

It found 30% of consumers claim to have changed their buying habits because they are worried about plastic packaging. Another 4% have even stopped buying bread, purely because they are worried about the perceived environmental impact of the packaging.

“We Seal wants to work with food producers and retailers to inform and educate consumers that recyclable plastics have an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions by keeping food fresh and reducing food waste,”​ said Hobson.

We Seal’s sealing tape is both recyclable and resealable, keeping bread fresher for longer and so reducing the amount thrown away in the home. The tape is easy to reseal and can be open and closed 50+ times on each loaf of bread

“We’re ready to start the conversation,” ​added Hobson.

We Seal, previously known as Select Bag Sealers, provides bread bag sealing solutions – tape seals, machines and support – to the bread industry in the UK and internationally.

Its bread bag seals are made from 100% fully recyclable polypropylene and can be easily recycled with the polythene bread bag without compromising the recyclability of the bag itself. The seal is less than 12mm wide and represents less than 2% of the packaging on the whole loaf of bread.

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