The UK government announced earlier this year that it is considering legislation banning the sale of single-use plastics in the UK, if alternatives are viable and affordable, amid concerns that their use is causing serious environmental problems.
As the name suggests, single-use plastics are plastic items that are used only once. They are heavily used in the food and drink industry because of the industry’s reliance on packaging and convenience items. Single-use plastic includes things like coffee stirrers, plastic cutlery and plates, water bottles, plastic straws, ready-meal packaging and plastic bags.
The UK produces roughly 300 million tonnes of plastic each year of which half is single-use. The nature of the plastic makes it difficult to recycle and so much of it ends up in landfill or in our water systems where it degrades into tiny particles. Environmentalists claim that plastic particles are appearing in our food chain and the water that we drink.
It is therefore not surprising that there is increasing focus on the damage that single-use plastics are causing to the environment and a realisation that something needs to be done about it. Businesses operating in the food and drink sector will need to evolve to keep in line with public opinion and make changes to how food and drink is packaged. There is already a ‘plastic free’ trust mark initiative which awards the trust mark to products that are packaged without plastic thus allowing consumers to make buying choices based on environmental standards. Food business operators may find that consumers vote with their feet if they believe that a business is not doing enough to reduce their use of plastic.
On top of consumer choice, the threat of new legislation is very real. If single-use plastic is to be banned, manufacturers will need to produce environmentally friendly alternatives to the plastic cutlery and straws that are currently so wide-spread. Food businesses need to start looking now at their use of plastics and come up with alternatives that are not so damaging to the environment.
The food and drink sector would be well advised to start tackling the problem of single-use plastic now rather than wait for new legislation to be introduced. We will keep you updated regarding any changes that are proposed.