Plastic consumption has literally taken over our lives, spanning all four corners of the globe and uniting those with differing persuasions. Key organisation like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, to figures from Kim Kardashian to David Attenborough have spoken out about the urgent need for change. The call for action has been echoed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and even HRH Prince Charles has stepped up his message about the dangers associated with plastic.
Recently, Netflix’s thought-provoking documentary ‘Seaspiracy’ provided disturbing graphic evidence of the plight of our oceans at the hands of modern day living, with the equivalent of a garbage truck load of plastic being dumped in the sea every single minute.
One of the demographics who support the cause most wholeheartedly is undoubtedly young adults. Their future is at stake. From Sweden’s Greta Thunberg to Thailand’s 12-year-old Lilly – whose efforts have convinced a supermarket to using plastic bags – there is real anger at the failure to halt the detrimental impact of plastic on the planet.
Recycle or adopt alternatives?
In February 2019, the UK government joined forces with a number of European countries and several global brands to sign a national pact on plastic packaging that seeks to deliver at least 30% recycled content by 2022, along with the complete ban of use of expanded polystyrene in food containers and single use cups.
In fact, the UK has pledged to achieved 60% of plastic packaging to be effectively recycled by this date and has introduced the RPR (Recycled Plastic Rating) Mark to help those businesses committed to the cause showcase the exact plastic credentials of their products.
WaxWrap commends the move to reduce plastic, as it has the knock on effect of reducing the amount of energy and resources to create it and of course, save landfill space and plastic ending up in the environment. But surely learning to adopt a non-plastic rather than recycled plastic lifestyle is the optimum solution. To erase or at very least minimise the material that is causing the problem, rather than simply keep using it, albeit in a recycled form.
Educate on the risks
DEFRA claims the sale of single-use plastic bags plummeted by 95% in England’s main supermarkets since the 5p charge was levied in 2015, which delivered £178m to charitable causes and clearly demonstrates the potential to shift established consumer buying habits.
So, rather than focusing heavily on reducing plastic usage, we need to educate consumers to understand the workable alternatives that could become the norm.
Perhaps we should be doing more than just playing the environmental card by also focusing on the research findings that indicate the potential hazards to human health. According to the Plastic & Health report 2019, “at every stage of its lifecycle, plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from both exposure to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals.”
Scientists are becoming more aware of the toxins that leech out of plastics, make their way into our bodies and trigger a variety of risks like cancer, reproduction issues, immune system suppression and problems with childhood development. Breast Cancer UK cites some plastics as a source of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) that interfere with the normal functioning of hormones, which may increase the risk of breast cancer. In 2015, Cancer Research UK warned that cling film should not be allowed to touch the food during microwaving on health grounds.
Impact of the pandemic
But while health issues represent a strong argument to reduce plastic usage, ironically, in extreme circumstances, it can also become the driver for increased consumption – as evidenced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The PPE that has become a staple feature of our lives is largely derived from plastic and according to a report in Euronews in March this year, in the UK alone, an estimated 1,500 tonnes of facemasks and gloves are thrown away each month. In fact, face masks are slated to overtake plastic bags as the most common type of litter.
The pandemic is being held responsible for totally derailing the war on plastic, not just due to the excessive production of PPE, screens and single use packaging, but also as result of countries delaying or backtracking on their policies in the wake of the worldwide crisis.
So, how do we get things back on track?
The way forward
Supermarkets and retailers should step up to the plate by stocking viable alternatives, such as our biodegradable 100% natural WaxWrap in pre-cut, roll and bag format, both for consumers to purchase but also for their own internal business operations.
Foodservice needs to do more to guide consumers to make changes that will help towards the zero-waste lifestyle. A decade ago, consumers did not even consider using a refillable vessel in lieu of a disposable cup. We’d have been puzzled by a retailer that supplied food supplies in a packaging free format. So, surely the next step should be to encourage customers to bring in a reusable carrier to transport their food-to-go snack?
Equally, producers of plastic alternatives need to ramp up their efforts to develop products that appeal to consumers and iron out any barriers to purchase. For example, while cling film is still regarded as a no-go by some, no one can deny the appeal of a roll format that can be cut to suit any requirement. While our WaxWrap on a roll offer that convenience, we are working to resolve this constraint.
Perhaps we need brands to unite in a genuine commitment to address plastic usage, rather than use allow this global problem to be used as merely a marketing weapon. For the sake of the next generation, I sincerely hope so.