The plastic problem is at epidemic proportions and countries and industry are rightly working to solve it. Yet, a move made by one key player is poised to derail these efforts.
In its recently published Packaging Strategy, supermarket giant Tesco set out goals to govern packaging and reduce plastic waste through a traffic light system. Its mission: to remove all non-recyclable and hard to recycle material.
While I applaud efforts to better inform the public on this crucial issue, underlying this progressive step is a worrying realisation about the misinformation concerning compostable packaging.
Within Tesco’s traffic-light categorisation, industrially compostable packaging is red-listed whereas home compostables are coloured amber.
Film and flexible packaging amounts to around 400,000 tonnes of plastic used in the UK per year.
It comprises 25% of all plastic packaging in Britain alone. Yet despite the considerable proportion the material makes up of the market, just 4% is collected and recycled.
That’s because film and flexible packaging are overwhelmingly used for food products.
Conventional packaging of this kind cannot be mechanically recycled or reused after contact with food produce.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. In some places, recycling works. Here, it doesn’t. Compostable solutions can.
Compostable packaging provides a solution, mimicking the qualities of plastic without the environmental damage that plastic leaves in its wake.
Compostable packing can be recycled even after it’s been in contact with food.
These materials shift away from the inefficient mechanical recycling stream, into a nature-based solution where they break down into the soil just like organic waste.
Today, compostable packaging presents a clear recycling option for food-service packaging.
Tesco’s claim that compostable packaging is hard to recycle is invalid.
Compostable packaging can be collected along with organic waste which by 2023 will have a nation-wide collection.
Operators report that around 40% of UK postcodes today have access to facilities suitable for accepting and treating compostables.
Despite good intentions, Tesco is at risk of doing a disservice to the planet by not understanding compostable packaging and the benefits that it provides.
Instead of adapting and pushing to be at the forefront of change and innovation, they are inhibiting it.
As one of the UK market leaders in retail, Tesco has a responsibility to set a precedence for other retailers who are influenced by their strategy and model.
Even so, I have to admit it is unfair to claim Tesco is the only player to take the wrong stance on this stage.
The UK government’s new recycling strategy places no emphasis or targets for addressing flexible and film challenges despite compostables presenting an obvious solution to this real problem.
The real issue with Tesco lies in its influence on public perception. Providing the wrong guidance and misinformation could have devastating effects on the planet.
I hope that greater education about compostables will prevail and dispel the misconceptions that played a role in the decision-making process for Tesco.
With sufficient education and the right infrastructure, including home composters which already exist, compostable materials could replace the recyclable and non-recycled conventional flexible plastic.
By transforming waste into compost, we can make a real difference in reducing the amount of plastic waste lingering in landfills.
It is the responsibility of everyone, from consumers, to businesses, to policymakers, to play their part in the fight against plastic.
Published on packagingnews.co.uk
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