Simply ditching plastic is not the best thing for our environment

Posted On: 
27th September 2019

The British Plastics Federation is calling for better understanding of materials to help people make more environmentally friendly choices after survey finds only 2% know that plastic is best at helping to keep down greenhouse gas emissions.

"The fact that nearly three quarters of the British public unfortunately assume that buying something that is plastic free is better for the environment highlights how unbalanced the debate about plastic has become," says Director General of the British Plastics Federation, Philip Law.
Credit: 
PA Images

A recent YouGov poll, commissioned by the British Plastics Federation (BPF), found that only 2% of people thought that plastic is the packaging material that is least damaging to the environment in terms of helping to keep down greenhouse gas emissions. The findings of the survey have prompted the organisation to call for a fuller understanding of materials amongst the wider public to help them make “informed” decisions.

‘Greenhouse gases’ — or GHGs — are the group of gases known to contribute to global warming. The best known GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. 68% of respondents indicated that they thought that plastic packaging is the most damaging material for the environment in terms of GHG emissions. In fact, according to a number of studies, plastic is the best packaging material in terms of overall GHG emissions. 

Director General of the British Plastics Federation Philip Law comments:

"As society continues to learn to use plastic more intelligently and we improve our recycling infrastructure, it is vital that people do not think that ‘plastic free’ necessarily means ‘better for the environment’.

"In a world where a ‘climate catastrophe’ has been declared, it is extremely important that steps are taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic – and plastic packaging – plays a huge role in minimising these emissions and generally outperforms other materials in this respect.

"Our ambition is for far more people, the press and various other influencers to understand that plastic packaging makes a massive contribution to keeping down global warming."

The BPF has previously highlighted that plastic packaging also plays an important role in protecting products and reducing food waste. Typically, the carbon footprint of the products we buy are far higher than their packaging. However, over a third (37%) of respondents did not agree that packaging is even necessary to increase the shelf life of food. 73% also said that they either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ with the statement: I aim to buy packaging that is plastic free because I think it is better for the environment. 

Law continues:

"The fact that nearly three quarters of the British public unfortunately assume that buying something that is plastic free is better for the environment highlights how unbalanced the debate about plastic has become. People should have a choice. But people need accurate information to make an informed decision – and that is what is lacking.

"We urge the government, brands and retailers to help us find ways to communicate why simply ditching plastic is not the best thing for our environment. The last thing our planet needs is for us to make matters worse by switching to alternative materials and increasing global greenhouse gas emissions."

The findings come shortly after a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee contained warnings that switching to alternatives risks increasing carbon pollution.

The BPF has also recently released a document called Understanding the Debate About Plastic, which is intended to provide an accessible way of informing people about the current issues.

The BPF represents over 450 companies from across the plastics industry, ranging from raw material suppliers to recyclers. The survey was conducted online between 13 and 16 September 2019. It had 2101 respondents from across the UK (aged 18+). Figures have been weighted.