Research produced by Green Alliance for the Circular Economy Task Force has claimed that some moves away from plastic packaging have confused consumers while also risking increasing carbon emissions. The report, ‘Plastic promises: what the grocery sector is really doing about packaging’, spoke anonymously to representatives from retailers and brands.
One contributor told the report that “we are aware that [by switching from plastic to other materials] we may, in some cases be increasing our carbon footprint.
A brand representative added: “The past year has just really pissed me off no end with companies coming out and boasting about not using plastic, even when they’re in single-use glass, and their carbon emissions are going to be off the scale.”
Respondents were also concerned that there was confusion over biodegradable packaging with 80% of consumers believing it is environmentally friendly. But the report warns that “confusion could potentially harm the environment if people either put ‘compostable’ plastic in with conventional plastic, or litter material, wrongly assuming it will biodegrade in the open environment”.
One contributor added: “We trialled doing a fully biodegradable bottle … and it was just a disaster and we had to pull it and no one knew where to put it. It didn’t really biodegrade very well.”
Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said: “The public are right to be outraged about plastic pollution. But what we don’t want is, a few years down the line, for them to be outraged about new environmental problems caused by the alternatives. We need to address the root of the problem, our throwaway society.
“Companies need much more help from the government to tackle plastic pollution without making climate change and other environmental impacts worse in the process.”
Martin Kersh, executive director at the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA), added: “The FPA has campaigned for a number of years for all claims being made for packaging to be backed up by certification and third-party evidence to prove they do what they are claimed to do. Not using the term ‘biodegradable’ in connection with packaging being an important example, with much packaging claiming to be biodegradable without details of how, where and how long to biodegrade. As the report states, it’s no wonder the public is confused.
“That said, the FPA believes that there is a role for compostable packaging, provided facilities are available, are clearly recognised and retailers and brands provide information on how to dispose of them. Closed environments are clearly appropriate for compostables, such as stadia, music and events venues, universities, hospitals, institutions or any catered location where the packaging does not leave the premises. Simply using compostable packaging and believing you have done your bit as a retailer or caterer is not acceptable and too many compostables are given to customers without telling them what to do with them once used.”