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Time to take steps to reduce plastic waste

14 January 2018

Tony Hitchin, general manager at Pro Carton, comments on the role of the food processor in reducing plastic waste. 

The recent announcement of an investigation into a tax on single-use plastics sends a clear signal to all that combating plastic waste is firmly on the agenda – and will remain so as we move forward into 2018. The announcement preludes the forthcoming EU ‘Plastics in a Circular Economy’ strategy document, which is expected to address the current low rate of recycling and reuse of plastics and the environmental damage caused by the millions of tonnes of plastic waste produced globally each year.

Although the EU seeks to determine the role of plastics in a circular economy, we know that plastics can never truly achieve a circular value chain. It is made from a non-renewable resource that will virtually never biodegrade. This is why plastic can be found in the deepest trenches of our oceans and in sea life living seven miles beneath the sea. With an estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans each year, and residues routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals, the EU plastics strategy must take a holistic view, as a crucial part of the answer to reducing plastic waste is using more sustainable materials in the first place.

Plastic clearly has a valuable role to play. It has fantastic qualities and is a very useful packaging material. However, action needs to be taken to ensure that the amount used, where not essential to the product’s quality, is dramatically reduced.

?For food processors, it is important to think about all the renewable and recyclable materials that are readily available before simply selecting what’s been used before. For example, cartonboard could easily take the place of some blister packs and clam shell packaging, while flexible and rigid plastics could also be replaced by sustainable, ecological friendly alternatives.

Finding ways to encourage the use of more sustainable materials through incentives or by rewarding eco-design, could see brands reducing the amount of plastic packaging they use sooner. It is key for brand owners to take more responsibility for the end of life of their plastic products.

Rather than waiting for the UK or EU governments to force your hand, it must be hoped that forward thinking brands and manufacturers are already reassessing environmental strategies and the materials used in a move towards more renewable and recyclable packaging. If you don’t, then the EU and UK Governments may well wield their influence to ensure we stackle one of today’s biggest environmental challenges.

Pro Carton is the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard manufacturers. Its main purpose is to promote the use of cartons as widely as possible.

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