GROCERY WARS: Just Say No To Plastics
Plastic is material consisting of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and so can be molded into solid objects. The world’s first fully synthetic plastic was bakelite, invented in New York in 1907 by Leo Baekeland who coined the term plastics. Plastic today is enemy # 1. The United Nations’ environmental agency says every year 8 million metric tons of plastic in the form of bags, packaging and, bottles are dumped into the ocean, either killing marine life or becoming part of the human food chain. [i] Globally, consumers purchase a million plastic bottles per minute, of which 91% are not recycled.[ii] Each day consumers do a daily chore just before going to bed – brushing their teeth. In the United States alone it is estimated that between 850 million, and over a billion toothbrushes, representing more than 50 million pounds of waste, are discarded and end up in landfills every single year.[iii]
Welcome to “Just Say No to Plastics”!
Pope Francis just recently called for concrete action to combat the “emergency” of plastics littering seas and oceans. “We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic,” Francis said. “Here, too, our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency.”[iv] Consumers are also weighing in on this subject matter. A recent poll indicated “More than half of UK consumers (52%) and a third (33%) in the US are in favour of a plastic packaging tax”. [v] In the UK, companies creating packaging waste are currently obliged to buy a “packaging recovery note” (prn), which effectively constitutes a tax.
Though practical in nature to wish to eliminate plastic packaging, the benefits of plastic packaging are overlooked. They help products from damage, extend shelf life and help create a brand identity that influences consumers purchasing decisions. The key challenge facing food manufacturers and retailers is to find alternatives to packaging that maintain these benefits for the supply chain and the consumer.
Consumer package goods manufacturers and retailers are herding the call to reduce their use of plastic. For instance:
- Aramark has outlined plans to phase out plastic straws and stirrers, offering friendly eco-friendly alternatives by 2022.
- Kraft Heinz has confirmed all of its packaging’s will either recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
- PepsiCo is aiming to use 50% recycled plastic in its bottles across the EU by 2030.
The Canadian Government is perusing a national strategy to curb Canada’s addiction to this material. They and 4 other G7 nations signed a Canadian-driven plastics charter in which they agree to work towards “50% recycled content in all plastic packaging by 2030, and that 55% of all plastics will be recycled, reused or burned for energy that same year. By 2040, all plastic should be recovered”.[vi] Prime Minister Trudeau has so far stopped short of banning plastics outright in Canada, arguing that the problem is much greater than simply getting rid of plastic straws and cups.
With between 5 to 13 million metric tons of plastic ending in our oceans each year, Brita UK stepped up to the plate in July of this year and set up the plastic-free challenge. In partnership with the Marine Conservation Society, they wished to see how many people could go plastic free for 48-hours to raise awareness of the issue. As noted by Gail Tudor @Aberporthgail on Twitter July 31st:
“So #plasticfreejuly is over but can you continue all those changes you made for the rest of the year and for life? Can you encourage others to change? The future of our planet and our wildlife depend on it. Every little bit really does make a difference”![vii]
There is only one planet and each of us big or small has a role to play in reducing our use of plastic. As noted by Amanda Keetley, Founder of Less Plastic, wwww.lessplastic.co.uk, here are a few tips for living with less plastic:
- Bring your own shopping bag.
- Say no to disposable straws and cutlery.
- Store leftovers in glass jars.
- Share your tips with friends and family.