Why it’s important to be looking at plastic packaging alternatives

By James Woollard, Managing Director of Polythene UK

Here in the UK – and globally – we are facing a climate crisis on an unprecedented scale. Only earlier this summer, Sir David Attenborough told Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the crusade against plastic pollution is at an all-time high in the UK, while 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, Gretna Thunberg, inspired hundreds of thousands of students from around 150 countries to walk out of classrooms on September 20th, as part of a Global Climate Strike to call for greater action against climate change.

The swelling international attention on the climate crisis only serves to highlight the severity of the situation, and there is good reason too. One of the biggest culprits of the crisis is plastics, especially single-use plastics and microplastics, the latter getting into everything from our food and drink to the air we breathe. The potentially toxic properties of plastics are contaminating our oceans, killing wildlife and causing unsustainable amounts of rubbish to be sent to landfill. The reality is; plastic is everywhere.

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Businesses that work in the plastics sector are being closely scrutinised, and rightly so. Around 40 per cent of plastics are thought to enter the waste stream in the same year they are produced which is a harrowing statistic, especially as there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of ocean plastic debris, which is estimated to treble by 2025.

It is easy to point the finger at plastic producers and call for the banning of plastic altogether, but in the current state of play that’s small-minded thinking and unrealistic. What we should be doing is encouraging plastic producers to offer products of the future today. The world is playing catch up in offering sustainable alternatives to harmful plastic products, but, generally speaking, we’ve made milestone movements towards our long-term green goals to ensure future generations live in an eco-friendlier environment.

Take the plastic packaging industry for example. Plastic packaging accounts for 44 per cent of the plastic used in the UK, but generates an incredible 67 per cent of plastic waste. Environmentalists are calling for supermarkets and shops to ditch non-recyclable plastic packaging on its products as well as the bags offered at the check-out. Even behemoth corporations such as Amazon have recently come under fire for using non-recyclable plastic packaging. No-one is immune to the climate crusade.

While this is a deeply concerning time for plastic packaging producers, it’s also an exciting one; a time where businesses have a chance to come to the fore and make a change, lead the way in offering innovative alternatives.

Major food and drink brands are desperate to avoid the firing line, such as brewer Molson Coors, which has pledged to only use plastics that are 100 percent reusable, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025 – so there is a market for sustainable plastic packaging producers to operate.

At Polythene UK, we offer flagship plant-based packaging alternatives that ensure businesses and their consumers have peace of mind, knowing they aren’t contributing to the plastic pollution pressure cooker. In fact, a recent study by recycling and waste management company, Viridor, found that 65 per cent of Brits are more likely to purchase a product if it is housed in recyclable packaging.

Eco-friendly products such as PolycompTM, a starch-based compostable polythene that is designed to break down naturally after use, offers an innovative packing solution that doesn’t need to be recycled.

The UK adds more household waste into landfill than any other EU state. The 100 per cent compostable bags aims to change this statistic, being designed to break down within ten days in the right environment, yet are strong and effective during use. In addition, they contain no Genetically Modified Organisms, having been produced free from GMO materials.

Other sustainable packaging alternatives include PolyairTM, one of the only 100 per cent recyclable, carbon neutral materials currently available on the UK market. The product has been designed to improve businesses’ green credentials and dramatically reduce their carbon footprint, while also providing a commercially viable alternative to standard polythene.

This bio-based material is made from sugar cane waste, and it’s the process of photosynthesis as the plant grows that makes the product carbon neutral, meaning the raw material will remain 100 per cent recyclable. What’s more, the sugar cane actively captures CO2 from the atmosphere, while at the same time releasing oxygen – making the material not just green, but proactively green. This allows for businesses to meet legislative requirements and deliver improved environmental solutions.

It can be used for pallet covers, top sheets, bags, wraps and liners, and in terms of practical use, the material is identical to alternatives made from fossil fuels, except being fully recyclable. Another product, PolyliteTM, is an extremely tough, lightweight polythene material that offers substantial cost savings compared to alternative polythene packaging materials. Typically, by delivering the same strength from a thinner multi-layered product, the material can reduce the weight of a company’s polythene consumption by 20 per cent, reducing the amount of plastic waste going into landfill.

Overall, UK businesses have a unique chance to offer something different to consumers, something they demand in this climate crisis. We’re currently experiencing a fast-paced movement away from using harmful plastics, but there’s still an awfully long way to go to appease the rigid demands of environmentalists, while also ensuring carbon footprints and landfill intakes are reduced to a sustainable level.

Alternative plastic packing has undergone a pioneering leap in recent times with cutting-edge products becoming widely available and, more importantly, cost-effective for businesses to pursue. We must continue on this upward trajectory to create a healthy future for businesses, consumers, and ultimately, the planet.