Plastic waste campaign has been thrown back
Buyers’ fears of contracting Covid-19 could undo the year-long campaign against single-use plastic.
Supermarkets are seeing the rise of single-use plastic bags, especially in the fresh produce areas, says plastic waste collection company Divert.co.uk.
Tesco has pledged to remove a billion plastic parts from its stores by the end of 2020, while Asda launched its first sustainable, packaging-free range in its Leeds store in January last year.
Almost all of the UK’s major food retailers have joined the UK Plastics Pact, launched in 2018, which aims to eliminate single-use plastic and increase the use of recyclable or compostable packaging. Consumer behavior has largely picked up.
However, the pandemic has halted many of these waste reduction programs as customers increasingly return to plastic bags for their products.
Of 250 buyers surveyed, 83% said that they bought the majority of their fruit or vegetables in some form of plastic bags or packaging.
Only 17% said they continued to use reusable or recyclable bags and choose fresh produce where available – while 28% said they did before the pandemic.
Over a third – 40% – of plastic food packaging is used only once and UK supermarkets produce 1.2 billion plastic bags for fruit and vegetables annually, making this surge in use a worrying statistic.
Mark Hall, spokesman for Divert.co.uk, said it was a touchy subject.
“It is understandable that people – and companies – want to avoid the risk of Covid-19, and at first glance it seems like an obvious choice to put food back in plastic packaging.
“But it seems to be a knee-jerk reaction that ignored the fact that science seems to show that the risk of transmission via surfaces and objects is very low. Washing your apples well before using them should be sufficient as a precaution. “
The solution, says Divert.co.uk, would have been a thoughtful approach: compostable paper gloves so customers can choose loose products, regularly cleaned tongs, and a public awareness campaign around fruit and vegetable washing or the strict “you touch it”. ‘You buy it’ rules could have been put in place early to slow the effects of a sudden return to single-use plastic.
“A major public campaign to remind the public about single-use plastics and their tremendously harmful effects on the environment is a good start,” said Hall.
“With a little more interconnected thinking, we could have avoided a huge number of landfills in the last 12 months, and it is time to stop viewing the environment and protecting it as an optional concern.
“Both the public and companies have a responsibility to keep waste reduction a priority and to find innovative, environmentally friendly solutions if necessary – like this year.”