UK • The Government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP) has issued a 28 page booklet called “Packaging in Perspective”, which sets out the facts about packaging.
Despite a perception that there is “ever more packaging” and our bins are “full of it”, statistics show that more than 60% of all packaging is recycled – well ahead of the rate for household waste which is currently 31%?
However, the booklet does not let the packaging industry off lightly though, and clearly sets out all the challenges it still faces – while, at the same time, it acknowledges the impressive improvements already made to reduce the amount of material needed to package goods, and to reduce packaging’s environmental impact.
Research into excessive packaging – another common complaint – found that while there are undoubtedly examples of goods which are unnecessarily over-packaged, these are very much the minority. Less than 3% of the packaging used for all packaged household goods is used for the products that are sometimes considered to be excessively packaged.
Packaging on fruit and vegetables is often criticised as unnecessary, but the booklet sets out very practical, resource efficient reasons why some items are wrapped. Take bananas. They have their own natural packaging – their skins – which understandably makes people feel that any further wrapping is wasteful and unnecessary. However large numbers of bananas over-ripen and are thrown away. WRAP reports that UK consumers throw away 1.6 million bananas a day. By wrapping the bananas in a modified atmosphere bag, waste is greatly reduced because the bag:
- absorbs the ripening substance, ethylene, that bananas give off, extending their life in the shops by 2-3 days and giving a longer life at home.
- prevents ethylene from affecting other nearby fruit and vegetables, stopping them ripening too quickly and going to waste.
- prevents shoppers breaking bunches up, which bruises the fruit and leaves odd bananas that are unsold and wasted.
- enables organic and Fair Trade bananas to be identified (sticky labels often become loose or are deliberately removed by shoppers to get a lower price).
The reasons for packaging grapes, cucumbers, salads and potatoes are also set out. Food wastage in developing countries – without packaging and distribution systems – can be as high as 50%. By contrast in the UK only 3% of our food goes to waste before it reaches the shops. As WRAP says, “The environmental costs of food waste are enormous. It is estimated that 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food production, distribution and storage. If we stopped wasting food that could have been eaten we could prevent at least 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year. ” Packaging plays a significant and growing role in helping reduce that waste.
The BPF Plastics and Flexible Packaging Group
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