Saturday, 12 August 2017

The British Plastic Federation and #PlasticFreeJuly

I was really pleased to hear that at the end of July plastic was talked about on Radio 4's You and Yours consumer affairs programme in response to both #PlasticFreeJuly and to the survey that says that 90% of people want to see a plastic free aisle in the supermarket.  I was, however, less pleased to hear what the supermarkets and British Plastics Federation had to say about plastics.   You can have a listen here, it is the first topic discussed - PlasticFreeJuly on You and Yours.


Supermarkets first as it will be quick as the supermarkets had nothing direct to say as none of them would come on to the programme.  Instead there was a comment from The British Retail Consortium which said that any reduction in plastic must be balanced against waste, a statement that appeared to refer to food items and made no mention of all the plastic packaging on non food items.  

It is true that some plastic packaging can protect some fresh produce BUT that is far from the whole story. 

  • If food was produced and sold at a more local level it would not need so much protection in transport
  • Some produce keeps less well in plastic - potatoes are a prime example readily sweating when kept for any length of time in plastic.  
  • For other foods plastic packaging is completely unnecessary - why does a swede need to be encased in plastic???
  • Thy are talking about is food wasted at the supermarket - but in fact all this plastic packaging does is to switch the waste to the consumer who is forced to buy too much pre-packed produce and/or the produce is spoilt in the plastic.  It does not take a degree in maths to work out that if supermarkets pack most of their produce is slightly larger amounts than most people want they will sell more produce (so increase their profits) and the consumer will waste more at home.
  • There are alternative non plastic packaging materials available and the fact that plastics are made from a non renewable resource means that at some point in the future plastic will become too expensive to produce and alternatives will have to take over ... so why not start looking for alternatives now.

Barry Turner from the British Plastics Federation did come on the programme but I was so angry to hear the rubbish he spouted.  He stated that ....

  • The Public are confused about the role of plastic
  • Not many items are wrapped in plastic 
  • Most plastic is recycled
  • There is no such thing as single use plastic and all plastic can be recycled

Confused public

Really?  That is a rather patronising statement with absolutely no grounding in any facts and any confusion is most likely born out of false claims about why plastic is used. 

Not many items wrapped in plastic

Errrm - when I was in the UK in May I was shocked to see so much fresh produce wrapped unnecessarily in plastic ... and then there are all the other aisles chock full of plastic over-wrapping, plastic bottles, plastic lids, individually wrapped items in plastic bags, disposable plastic items from straws to razors etc etc etc.

Most plastic is recycled 

... the interviewer quotes 33%, Mr Turner quoted a figure of 45% - neither figure means MOST plastic is recycled.  Furthermore plastic is a complex material as there are so many different types.  A few types may be recycled back to the same product but in most cases one of the following is what happens to plastic:

> It is downcycled to another form of plastic (ie bottle to fleece top) that itself cannot be recycled or downcycled so ends up in landfill
> It never reaches the recycle bin in the first place and it simply goes into the waste bin
> It is not always economically viable for the collected plastic to be recycled so it goes to landfill

I would be very interested to know how that figure of 45% s reached - by volume, by weight?  I know in France the only plastic I can recycle is bottles and some plastic lids - ALL other plastic had to go in the bin.

No such thing as single use plastic

I cannot see how the plastic tray and plastic over-wrapping on the tomatoes I ended up buying when in the UK are in any way something other than single use.  And what about plastic straws, the plastic in teabags, plastic razors, wet wipes?  I do not see any recycling bins for these and many other products.  That statement is completely false.

I then found this statement on the website of The British Plastics Federation in response to the recent survey that indicated 9 out of 10 people would like a plastic free aisle in supermarkets.

"A decade ago, a major retailer trialled selling cucumbers without plastic packaging but the scheme was abandoned due to the huge amount of food that was wasted. Typically, food waste in stores increases by a third without packaging, so cutting out plastic packaging in areas within supermarkets would actually cause harm to the environment because the energy used to produce food is much greater than in the packaging protecting it. Plastic packaging uses less energy to produce than alternatives, reduces transport costs and CO2 emissions because it is lightweight, and significantly reduces the amount of food wasted by protecting it in a hygienic environment and extending its shelf life. Avoiding the protection of plastic packaging would also increase food waste during transit and once it reached the home. Plastics are a reusable resource that needs to be disposed of responsibly and recycled whenever possible — and focussing efforts on improving public understanding, reducing littering and enhancing the UK’s recycling infrastructure would be a better way of achieving a sustainable future. "
I contacted the British Plastics Federation via their Facebook page with both a Visitor Post and message.  They have replied to neither.  These are some points I would like to have discussed with whoever wrote their statement ...

  • Why have I have never seen a plastic wrapped cucumber in France, nor have I seen the public rejecting them and other non plastic wrapped produce
  • What if the energy used was from renewables?  And anyway, is it really an acceptable reason to blight the planet with the stuff ... because it saves some people a bit of money??
  • Why not look at systems to reduce transport by sourcing more local food
  • If you say plastic is a reusable resource why are you talking about disposing of it safely and what does that mean anyway - more stuff in landfill?.  Most plastic is NOT currently reusable

Obviously the British Plastic Federation is there to support and promote plastics.  They will try and justify their product as hat is their reason for existing.  Suffice it to say I am not sure the sustainable future that the British Plastic Federation envisions is the same as the one I would like to see.

What would you like to say to The British Plastic Federation? Am I right to want to see a reduction in plastic or does everyone really want as much plastic as they claim?

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