Michelle Carvell, COO at Lorax Compliance, is concerned that food waste could increase as a result of a ban on single-use plastics in packaging. While she welcomes the government’s long-awaited consultation on the subject she fears the national food waste crisis will only get worse if other considerations are not taken into account.
Lorax Compliance, which helps simplify and manage the escalating scope and complexity of global environmental compliance for companies which need to meet local, national and worldwide waste directives such as packaging, WEEE, batteries, deposit and textiles, notes its enthusiasm in light of retailers pledging to support sustainable solutions. But the carbon cycle must be addressed as part of the debate on single-use plastics.
For example, plastic has an important role to play in the food production process, not least ensuring food has a longer lifespan. Removing plastic from the equation could see food, such as meat which lasts ten times as long in plastic packaging than when wrapped in paper, become inedible quicker leading to potentially increased food waste.
“As the government works to clarify its approach on single-use plastics in its long-awaited consultation, we urge ministers to reconsider the effect a plastics packaging ban, as articulated in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, could have on our national food waste crisis,” said Carvell.
“We are delighted, as environmental and packaging compliance experts, to see retailers pledge their support to sustainable solutions. However, we believe that the carbon cycle should be considered as part of the government’s consultation.”
Her response comes after Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in November he would “investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste.” The 5p plastic bag charge has resulted in a drop in usage. “I want us to become a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic”, added Hammond.
Richard Kirkman, Veolia UK and Ireland’s chief technology and innovation officer, noted the importance of recycling plastic to assist in a reduction of waste going to landfill but insisted a need for a “clear distinction” between what is and isn’t “single-use plastic”. He said, “Clear labelling is key. For example, plastic bottles are not ‘single use’ if they’re recycled, whereas straws, takeaway food trays and plastic cutlery often cannot be used again.”
But eliminating single-use plastic altogether from fresh produce is challenging for a number of reasons, notes Carvell. “Firstly, plastic’s role in the food production process substantially reduces food waste levels by increasing the lifespan of perishable goods across the supply chain.
“Plastic vacuum packaging not only prevents the discolouration of meat products, but also extends its lifetime by up to ten times that of meat wrapped in paper, which cannot be used to seal food in the same way. Removing plastic from manufacturing, a material which ensures food remains edible for a longer period of time, would create a huge amount of wastage within food production carbon cycles.
“Secondly, packaging’s relationship with food is a long-established marketing marriage which is integral to enhancing a product’s appeal at the point of sale. This will not be easily undone in the mind of the consumer. Would you buy a ready meal if you couldn’t see what it looked like? It’s unlikely. It is clear that some element of plastic must remain either as a window or a lid to ensure consumer trust at the point of purchase.
“We urge the government to review the full circularity of plastic’s role in the food supply chain as part of its forthcoming consultation and to involve food manufacturers and producers as part of its review, in order to minimise both the future wastage and costs of perishable goods.”