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Plastics: Cleaning up the food industry

06 October 2018

Martin Leeming explains the goals of the UK Plastics Pact and urges everyone within the food industry to get involved. 

The UK Plastics Pact is a world-first agreement between governments, businesses, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and citizens which aims to transform the UK’s plastics systems, helping society move away from the wasteful ‘take-make-dispose’ model towards a circular system which allows plastic to be used and reused. 

By 2025, the aim  of the UK Plastic Pact is to transform the plastic packaging sector by hitting a series of targets – 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable; 70% of plastic packaging will be effectively recycled or composted; single-use packaging will be eliminated through redesign, innovation and reuse; and all plastic packaging will feature an average of 30% recycled content.

The Plastics Pact represents a step towards ensuring a more sustainable future and I’m a fan of it because it cuts through the noise and gets straight to the heart of a complex problem in simple terms, as well as acknowledging plastics for what they are – incredibly versatile, important resources that help reduce food waste. It is vital that, in an advanced economy like ours, the food industry helps turn the proliferation of plastics to our advantage by using technology to create a circular economy for them.

In order for this to happen, however, is important that the food industry consider how it can ensure consumers are getting recyclable plastic packaging out of their rubbish bins and into their recycling?

First, we need to simplify the types of plastics being used. Some plastics can be recycled and some cannot. We need to take the responsibility of differentiating between the two out of the hands of consumers by banning non-recyclable plastics altogether. Next, we need to help increase recycling rates by changing attitudes toward recycling. Everyone shares responsibility for ensuring the correct items are being placed in the correct recycling bins.

Finally, we need to push for new systems to be put in place that guarantee that what is being placed in recycling bins is actually being recycled. Incidents of plastics being sent to landfill instead of being recycled must be stamped out as a matter of urgency.

In order for the Plastics Pact to be effective, the conversations around it also need to address both secondary and primary packaging. Secondary packaging is often overlooked as it doesn’t end up in the hands of the general public but eradicating the waste created by it is as important as eradicating the waste from primary packaging.

Working together
Supermarkets and packaging designers need to work together to create secondary packaging that enables each substrate to be easily separated at the shelf so they can be directed into the correct waste streams, and packaging designers need to use substrates that can be quickly and easily separated when the packaging is being broken down.

Supermarkets also need to listen to the advice of packaging experts and embrace new technologies, such as cold wrapping, to open up a whole new world of packaging designs that reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastics being used and ensure substrates remain uncontaminated, making it easier to prepare them for the recycling process. Because cold wrapping uses as much as 95% less energy than heat tunnels, it also offers a more environmentally-friendly option by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that are created during the production process, while still creating strong, reliable packaging solutions.

The UK Plastics Pact can be transformative for society but, for it to be successful, everyone in the food industry needs to support it and encourage consumers to do the same.

Find out more about Plastics Pack at:

Martin Leeming is CEO of secondary-packaging manufacturer, TrakRap.

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