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May 15, 2018 / Richard Hall

Mixed messages on plastic

I am an admirer of plastic. It has made food and drink safer and more affordable, with better presentation and less product waste.

But its ubiquity has led to carelessness and our wildlife as well as seas are suffering.

There is so much that can be done to improve this.

The first is better understanding.

I have written before about confusion over the word ‘bio’.

• In many countries, bio means organic – nothing to do with packaging at all.

• Bio-based means from plant materials, as opposed to from oil, but bio-based does not necessarily decompose naturally.

• Bio-degradable will eventually break down, but this can still take a matter of years unless it is accelerated by a range of composting techniques.

Yet more confusion surrounds bio-degrading compared with recycling.

• Recycling preserves a material and gives it second life, sometimes even continuous life.

• Bio-degrading has great advantages in some circumstances but discards the material and may create gas emissions.

And then there is the question of what is plastic ?

• When the Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza opened the world’s first plastic-free aisle, most of the packaging still looked like … plastic.

My final point about understanding relates to recycling.

• We naturally think that recycling one bottle into another bottle, known as closed loop recycling, is a good thing – which it is.

• But sometimes it may be more viable to convert plastic into building or clothing materials.

• We may also assume that everything collected for recycling is actually recycled, but it isn’t.

All these confusions, added to our own emotional reactions, make an already complex issue far more difficult.

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