One of the big stories in recent months has been the growing awareness of the damage caused by plastics to the environment. Plastics have become a common sight in supermarkets, used in all kinds of products to help keep them fresh and make them easy to transport. As we all look to use less plastic, what are the options?

And could contract canning help your business use less plastic?

The plastic problem

According to reports, the supermarkets around the country generate a million tonnes of plastic packaging every year, accounting for one fifth of the UK's total plastic waste. Yet of this waste, less than 30% is recycled and many of the food plastic waste cannot be recycled even if there was a willingness to do so.

The government launched a 25 year plan earlier this year with the aim of eliminating 'all avoidable plastic waste' by 2042. There is talk about a system of taxes or charges to reduce single-use plastic and to help fund sustainable materials to use in their place.

Businesses taking the initiative

Some of the big names in food retail have already taken their own steps to improve the situation. Iceland was the first UK retailer to commit to removing plastic packaging from their own label products by 2023 after 80% of their shoppers were in favour of the move. Rather than 'beating the competition' the company hope to lead by example and have others do the same.

Currently, the store has around 80 lines that would use plastic in their packaging. This means by their deadline date, they will need to find other ways to package them. Lobbying group Greenpeace praised the move and have been running campaigns to persuade supermarkets and the food product industry to start doing something similar.

The counter argument

Not everyone is in favour of removing the single-use plastics. The British Plastics Federation is one example who, understandably, are a little less enthusiastic about the idea of removing all plastic from the shelves. For them, the replacement of plastic with other options could lead to an increase in 'carbon emissions, food waste and the energy needed to make packaging' that could offset the benefits.

They are quick to point out that the move by Iceland will have little or no impact on the marine litter problem, one of the most frightening parts of the problem. This type of waste often comes from litter outside the home rather than from litter than we put into bins to be recycled or sent to landfill.

Looking at the options

There are a few different ideas on the table to consider with the aim of helping ease the problem. One example is to use aluminium and steel cans. While this won't work for all products, canning does have the advantage of being 100% recyclable and lightweight. A recycled aluminium can could save 95% of the energy that is needed to make it.

Glass is another option for soft drinks, waters and fruit juices and is a traditional type of packaging. Being chemically inert there is no concern about it changing the products stored within it and it is strong and rigid. Like cans, it is also 100% recyclable.

Beverage cartons are one of the top options for still drinks and juices as they preserve freshness and flavour. They are great for fresh and long-life products, can be kept at room temperature or refrigerated. Most are made from renewable resources and are low carbon. Over 90% of local authorities around the UK recycle these containers so they are another good option to ensure less waste goes to landfill - or worse, into the environment at large.

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