Increasing demonization of plastic packaging

28 Mar 2019

"Too much", "unnecessary", "too polluting" or "full of harmful substances" are examples of prejudices encountered by the packaging industry. The prejudices remain similar over time, while the public scrutinizes different materials.

Currently an outpouring of public outrage is being aimed at plastic packaging. Above all, the ever-increasing pollution of the oceans and associated consequences have made plastic packaging even more the focus of many environmentalists and NGOs.

Politicians have reacted to public pressure and are beginning to implement targeted bans of disposable plastic products. Disposable plastic cutlery, drinking straws and cotton buds are the first products to be banned in the war on ocean littering. More disposable products are to follow.

Consumers and politicians appear to have reached a consensus: plastic-free solutions are more environmentally friendly. The volume of plastic is to be forced back. However, products should not be banned unless there is a better alternative.

This mentality is extremely narrow-minded. Plastic is not per se the cause of ocean littering, but due to the prevalence of the material and its ability to float, it is only the visible proof of another problem - sustainable waste management. Simplyreplacing plastic with alternatives like glass, aluminium or other metals has no impact on pollution. A misguided belief that alternatives to plastic such as paper and cardboard always have a better climate footprint has taken root.

Whilst environmental audits have been used to demonstrate an ecological advantage of individual packing or products, the "plastic free" label today suffices to achieve a positive image – no matter what the true ecological benefits might be. The best example of this is the image of the paper bag, which even the Nabu website declares to be an environmentally unfriendly alternative to plastic bags. (cf. https://www.nabu.de/umwelt-und-ressourcen/oekologisch-leben/alltagsprodukte/19463.html)

Environmental audits will therefore not help plastic manufacturers and users. It will take more to enduringly improve the image of plastic packaging. A first step is the "Alliance to End Plastic Waste" (AEPW), founded by more than 20 international companies in the plastics and branded goods sector (including BASF, Henkel, DOW, P&G).

With the AEPW, companies will provide around $1.5 billion to aid the fight against the uncontrolled proliferation of plastic waste in Asia. A suitable approach, which will probably achieve more than the EU ban; because the main points of entry for plastics into the oceans are in Asia.

In this way, there is a silver lining to the demonization of plastics. We should never forget that plastics are the better solution in many cases, even for the environment! The cry for "No plastic!" is NOT an environmental target, but pure ideology. We need more sustainable plastics, improved recycling loops and  better handling of our waste around the world in order to improve the environment.

 

Source: B+P Consultants GmbH

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