Fantastic plastic?

25 May 2018

A number of you would have seen the recent BBC series Blue Planet II which has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans.

Plastic waste polluting the UK’s rivers, seas and countryside is an increasing problem and not just a problem confined to the UK. It can have a number of environmental impacts, for example air, land and water pollution, as well as being a threat to wildlife. A recent consideration by the UK government was to introduce a tax on single-use plastics, for example packaging and takeaway containers.

An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. Plastics have been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. Around 30 billion plastic bottles are used by UK households each year; just 57% are currently recycled, with half of those going to waste.

Recycling is not only beneficial to the environment, but it reduces waste cost for businesses, making it more economical too.

Increasingly, large firms are signing up to cut their use of plastics over the coming years and the UK’s major supermarkets are all making significant efforts to reduce their use of plastics and non-recyclable packaging. The introduction, just over two years ago, of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Müller, Britain’s biggest producer of fresh milk, butter, cream, yogurt and desserts, has just confirmed its intention to acquire the capability to manufacture its own fresh milk packaging in the UK. The multi million pound move will give the business the means to further accelerate reduction in the use of plastic and increase the use of recycled plastic in its bottles to its target of 50% by 2020. Plastic bottles used for Müller’s branded and private label fresh milk products are already 100% recyclable.

The New Plastics Economy is an ambitious, three year initiative to build momentum towards a plastics system that works. Applying the principles of the
circular economy, it brings together key stakeholders to rethink and redesign the future of plastics, starting with packaging.

Earlier this year the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, that the list of leading brands, retailers and packaging companies working towards using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier has grown to 11 (Amcor, Ecover, Evian, L’Oréal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Walmart, and Werner & Mertz) together representing more than 6 million tonnes of plastic packaging per year. Find out more by visiting www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org

We have all seen the headlines about the huge environmental problems caused by single-use plastics. Governments and corporations have a responsibility to take action – but what can we do to cut down our personal plastic footprints? Here are the nine top tips from Greenpeace:

1. Carry a reusable bottle
In the UK we use over 35 million plastic bottles every year! Carrying a reusable bottle is a great way to cut your plastic use and save money too. There’s even an app that tells you where you can refill your bottle for free!

2. Say no to plastic straws
Plastic straws are bad news for our oceans. Next time you order a drink, think about whether you need a straw – and if you don’t, just say no! You can also ask your local pub to stop adding straws to drinks as standard and offer paper straws to those who want one.

3. Take a reusable coffee cup
2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away every year in the UK and less than 1 in 400 are recycled. Carry a reusable cup with you. Some cafés even offer a small discount if you use your own cup (and if they don’t, ask them why not!).

4. Avoid excessive food packaging
Whether it’s making different choices in the supermarket or choosing a different place to shop, we can all try and cut down the plastic we buy. And as an added bonus, loose fruit and veg is often cheaper than pre-packaged alternatives.

5. Use refill stations for detergents
There are some products where it’s difficult to avoid a plastic container (for example washing up liquid or laundry liquid) – the good news is that there are an increasing amount of places where you can refill your old bottles.

6. Say no to disposable cutlery
We’ve all been there – caught out in a café or at a train station when we’ve bought a salad or a yogurt but the only cutlery on offer is plastic. Whilst it’s hard to plan for every opportunity, consider carrying a spoon or fork in your bag or keeping cutlery in your desk at work.

7. Get your milk delivered
Although the early morning sound of a milk float is not as common as it used to be, there are still lots of places in the UK where you can get milk delivered in glass bottles – which are then collected and re-used.

8. Avoid microbeads
The good news is that the UK government have now banned microbeads. Enforced at the start of 2018, this is fantastic news as these small beads of plastic are seriously harmful to marine life. However, it may be worth checking those labels on the products you’ve had for a while on your shelves at home or in the workplace, and avoid products containing polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon.

9. Carry a shopping bag
Since the plastic bag charge was introduced in England, there’s been a massive 85% drop in their use. Many of us are used to carrying an extra bag with us – if you still find it hard to remember, try a foldaway one that you can carry in your normal day bag or coat pocket.

Making just a few small changes can have a big impact on the amount of plastic we use on a day-to-day basis. The Food and Drink Team at Old Mill are keen to do our part and have started making our own small contributions to reducing our use of plastics. We hope that this article has inspired you to take action within your business and join us in the fight against pollution.

Research & Development opportunities
The focus around plastics and the environment is a key talking point for individuals and businesses alike. The power is most certainly with the consumer, with the “David Attenborough” effect being felt worldwide. Consumers want more environmentally friendly products and packaging, and they want it now.

There will no doubt be a number of businesses out there that are concerned with how the changing trends are going to impact upon their business and are not sure what they can do. There is an opportunity here to push ahead of the competition and to invest in environmentally friendly technologies, with Research and Development opportunities that businesses can take advantage of which can help them to address the key issues facing the industry, whilst getting additional tax relief in the process.

If the expenditure on Research and Development is not something that you are able to fund at this stage, there are companies out there that already have established products that are fully compostable. These products are more likely to come at a premium as they are unique to the market but will come down in price in future once the rest of the world catches up. These premiums will therefore need to be factored in when calculating product costings.

Other aspects
There is a lot of pressure on businesses and individuals to become more environmentally conscious with regards to their packaging. There is concern that this pressure could lead to a reduction in quality of packaging and therefore an increase in non-compliance with the relevant food safety regulations. Businesses should take care with regards to new packaging to ensure that it meets all the relevant standards before being utilised in the business. Failure to adhere to these standards could have a much more serious financial impact on your business that the potential loss of customers. 

If you would like to discuss the Research and Development opportunities available to you and your business, give us a call and we would be happy to help.

For more information contact Lucy Bennett on 01935 709320 or email lucy{dot}bennett{at}oldmillgroup{dot}co{dot}uk 

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