The use of plastics in food packaging is contributing to climate disaster
Food retailers must find eco-friendly alternatives to plastic packaging if we’re to fight pollution and meet our environmental obligations, writes Anne Main MP
In the UK it is estimated that 5m tonnes of plastic is used every year, nearly half of which is packaging – a figure that is increasing with rising demand.
The UK’s biggest supermarkets will use close to 120,000 tonnes of plastic packaging this year for their products. This can’t continue if we want to meet our environmental obligations as a nation and be considered a global leader on the issue of plastic waste.
This is why, during a Westminster Hall debate in June, I spoke of the need for the UK to substantially minimise waste from plastic. One of the most effective ways of achieving this goal is through reducing unnecessary plastic in our food packaging.
Rather than simply introducing a different form of packaging that may be just as harmful, we need to consider whether we need that packaging in the first place and what alternatives are available.
Our plastic pollution is often not only limited to our landfill, but significantly impacts the landfill of other countries.
Last month, during my social action visit to Bangladesh, I joined local environmental campaigners to clear plastic rubbish from the banks of the Surma River in Sylhet. I was able to see first-hand the adverse effects our plastic consumption is having on developing nations who cannot cope with this level of plastic pollution and toxicity.
I regularly discuss the issue of plastic pollution with environmental groups in my constituency of St Albans. It is always inspiring to hear what residents, local government and schools are doing to raise awareness. St Albans district council, for example, works incredibly hard to improve our recycling rate and that should be encouraged across the UK.
From my discussions with constituents, it is clear that everyone can help tackle the plastics crisis by making changes in their own lives and at a local level.
It is particularly heartening that the younger generation is becoming engaged. Earlier this month, Girlguiding launched the UK’s largest ever female-led climate campaign aiming to fight plastic pollution. There are now thousands of youth-led initiatives across the UK joining the war on plastics. It makes me confident that we can, and will, do better in the future.
It is also encouraging to see retailers working hard to reduce the plastic used in their packaging, including Morrisons, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. The APPG for the Prevention of Plastic Waste, which I chair, recently met with two of the UK’s largest retailers, Asda and Starbucks, to discuss the consistent reduction of plastic waste in their companies.
Starbucks told the APPG that, over the last two years, the UK has gone from one in 400 paper cups being recycled, to one in 25. This is a step forward and shows the potential for retailers to make a difference in the ways both consumers and retailers can increase recycling rates.
It is vital that retailers introduce other new and innovative ways to reduce plastic waste by pursuing more eco-friendly ways of packaging their food and products. This includes teaming up with other retailers to encourage change across the spectrum and consequently disrupt the damage of the single-use plastic chain.
The major coffee chains in the UK deserve credit for working together to reduce the number of takeaway coffee cups that go to landfill.
Government, industry and consumers must guard against complacency. We must strive to reduce plastic in our food packaging and, consequently, reduce plastic waste across the UK.
Consumer behaviour and the right government policies could see a drastic change in our relationship with plastic packaging. Hopefully, if we lead, other nations around the world will follow.
Anne Main is Conservative MP for St Albans and chair of the APPG on the Prevention of Plastic Waste