News | Published January 09 2020

Banning plastic packaging could leave environment worse-off, according to report

A report from a cross-party Parliamentary group suggests that banning plastic packaging could do more harm than good to the environment in the long run.

Consumer pressure to change packaging stems from widespread concern about the impact of plastic waste on oceans and wildlife, but the outcome of using alternative packaging materials is yet to be properly determined, the report says.

According to the group, some firms are already starting to switch to different packaging materials such as glass, which may be more harmful for the environment. 

Equally, the rising use of paper bags over plastic bags may also be having a negative impact given that they are harder to re-use and that their manufacture tends to generate higher carbon emissions.

There are also concerns from retailers interviewed for the report over consumer confusion of how to properly dispose of certain types of plastic which are thought of as being more environmentally friendly, and how it might lead to wrongful disposal and more environmental harm.

The report says: “Over 80 per cent of consumers think biodegradable or compostable plastic is environmentally friendly, but there is little understanding of what the terms mean and how the material should be dealt with."

It added that the retailers interviewed for the report “wanted a clearer approach to where it should be used and how it should be marked to avoid confusing consumers and potentially causing more problems.”

Group spokeswoman, Libby Peake, told the BBC: “A lot of shops are selling packaging described as biodegradable or compostable.

“In fact the items might only be composted in an industrial composter – and, even then, some items might not be fully digested.”

Additionally, some firms using “compostable” plastic that were interviewed reported that the material did not degrade as expected in real world conditions.

One firm quoted in the report said: “Consumers are hugely confused about what bio-based, compostable and biodegradable mean. We are aware that we may, in some cases, be increasing our carbon footprint [by switching from plastic to other packaging materials].”

In spite of Brexit, the UK government has said it will adopt wider recycling targets under the EU Circular Economy Package, but this excludes the Single-Use Plastics Directive, which demands more stringent action on reducing use of single-use plastics, including bans on certain products such as plastic cutlery.

The government is expected to begin consultation on three parts of its resources and waste strategy over 2020, which include extended producer responsibility for packaging; introducing a deposit return system for drinks bottles; and bringing in greater consistency for recycling and waste collections.

However, it remains unclear as to when these policies may come into force and there is a lack of clarity over the conditions of the deposit return plan.

Further bans on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds are also set to be implemented and the Treasury has said that plastic packaging that does not consist of a minimum 30 per cent of recycled material will eventually be liable to a new tax.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
January 09 2020

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