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(Source: G&K TechMedia)
(Source: G&K TechMedia)

A step into the breach for packaging

Phrases like “50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans” or “An estimated 300 million tonnes of plastic now litters the oceans, with around eight million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans every year”;“ Animals from the deepest and most remote places have been found with plastic in their stomachs, confirming fears of manmade contamination” – are examples for the alarming news that we are confronted with almost every day. Therefore, it seems that another “public enemy” has been established, making plastic packaging synonymous for everything that is bad in this world.


A most welcome scapegoat

However, does this disaster scenario really reflect the reality or is it just another outbreak of current environmental hysteria. The British news magazin “The Spectator” described initiatives to phase out all plastic packaging as “largely a reflection of a sudden and violent public concern over plastic”, which has become a kind of “bogeyman” among concerned citizens.

Ocean soiling and “War on plastic”

It’s not hard to see why everyone’s worried about plastic as the oceans are unquestionably heavily polluted.Therefore, the European Commission, declared war on single-use plastics plastic items, including cutlery, plates and straws, with the aim to eliminate them until 2021. In this context, the German Packaging Institute (dvi) has urged us not to ignore the fact, that roughly 80% of all plastic waste in the oceans is generated by Asian countries and just about 1% by Europe. With this in mind, one may be curious about the intention of the EU to fight waste where the least amount is generated.

The shortsightedness of the “Well intended”

But when public opinion is so much in agreement on an issue, we should all be on our guard. It’s exactly when everyone agrees about an issue that bad decisions are made, some with awful and far-reaching unintended consequences. For instance, reducing the thickness of packaging may reduce volumes entering the waste stream, yet it might also reduce the effectiveness of the packaging in protecting and preserving the product, leading to increased product waste.

The ominous “Carbon footprint”

In fact, when one examines the carbon footprints of packaging and the packaged product, respectively, the environmental consequences of focusing solely on packaging waste start to look extremely misguided. Research has found that about 30% of the average European consumer carbon footprint comes from the production and distribution of food, whereas packaging only causes 1.3% of the consumer’s total carbon footprint in a developed economy. However, magic bullet solutions often have unintended consequences. If we think through those of a total elimination of plastic packaging, we face the prospect of a more carbon-intensive economy,

Any comments on this editorial are greatly appreciated.

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Armin Karl Geiger

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