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We should be leading the world in plastic-free packaging

PUBLISHED: 08:50 16 March 2018

We should be leading the world in plastic-free technology, says Nick Conrad. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We should be leading the world in plastic-free technology, says Nick Conrad. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Britain should be seizing the chance to lead the world in plastic-free packaging, says Nick Conrad.

Plastic not so fantastic! Welcome to Ekoplaza. It looks like a regular convenience store, with more than 700 shrink-wrapped products, transparent to seduce the would-be consumer. But this is a supermarket with a difference… the first to use a biodegradable natural alternative to plastic on its products.

Now we have no excuse to carry on cocooning our products in plastic. The forward-thinking Dutch have just opened the world’s first plastic-free supermarket aisles, the long shelves stacked to the brim with products which wouldn’t look out of place in one of our major retailers. A film covers and protects the food - it looks like, handles like and performs the same duty as its destructive predecessor. Eventually the hope is that this supermarket might achieve 100% plastic-free status. I’m suggesting now is the time a major UK retailer tries to beat it and declares itself plastic-free.

Why do I care so passionately about this issue? In one breath we claim we care for our planet, at the same time as we are treating our world like one huge dustbin. Seafarers tell of being confronted by a junkyard of human debris in swathes of the great blue oceans. Miles from shore, detritus and junk bobs around in the waves. Plastic bottles, bags, synthetic netting, wrappers and even tyres emerge from the gloom. It’s not just at sea, our entire planet has become a dumping ground for waste. Is this a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’? There are even worries that what is visible could be just the tip of the iceberg. About 70 per cent of all ocean debris sinks down from the surface, leading experts to fear that huge unseen rubbish dumps are accumulating at the bottom of the ocean. Then we consider the landfill sites back on dry land!

The hypocrisy of humans is astonishing. In one breath we exclaim the beauty of our amazing planet, then we happily destroy it. Maybe, just maybe, we’re amending (part) of our behaviour before it’s too late. So eager shoppers in the Netherlands, clutching their baskets, wandered the aisles in disbelief. Their scepticism, the new non-plastic material concealing their food looks just like plastic. The beauty is that in time it will rot away. Made from sustainably-sourced raw materials such as starch, sugar and wood pulp, or more conventional glass, paper and cardboard. It can be thin and see-through or hardened and structured to protect food. It all keeps the food inside just as fresh as plastic - so why on earth would we use anything else? It’s sheer lunacy to revert to plastic when we’ve now got an eco-friendly alternative. Yes it is marginally more expensive, but with greater use its price will become more competitive.

Reducing single-use plastic in the food industry is a massive step. This latest development has once again sent UK supermarket bosses into a spin. Cue an increased clamour for ‘ethical’ packaging, originally ignited by the hit BBC series Blue Planet earlier this year. Amid the numerous awe-inspiring undersea wonders this spectacular natural history programme treated us to, it was the plight of a couple of whales which caused the greatest impact. A ‘mourning’ pilot whale mother, carrying her stillborn baby that may have been poisoned by pollution, left viewers in tears. The footage of a baby sperm whale with part of a plastic bucket caught in its mouth really drove home the problem. Both sobering moments.

If the consumer starts to question the ethics of packaging, events in the Netherlands will be be replicated in the UK.

I always forget my bags when visiting the supermarket. I am that frustrating chap at the checkout who gathers their shopping in their arms, heading for the exit desperately trying not to drop anything. But I’m heartened by fellow shoppers who aren’t so absent-minded and come armed with bags galore. Motivated by environmental reasons or not wishing to part with a few pence for a new bag, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter - the message is getting through.

We Brits have dithered with vague promises of a future plastic-free Britain. When it comes to meaningful legislation or a really proactive strategy to tackle single use plastic waste we seem to be lacking. We should seize the chance to develop new wrappers and products to protect food and be innovative in providing solutions. This is the kind of progressive development which has global ethical and monetary value.

Forgive the pun… I bet you think this is going to cost a ‘packet?’ You’ll be surprised. The average cost of producing and disposing of this material is 1p more expensive than conventional plastic. Best of all, when the packaging is placed in a food compost bin, it will break down to water, carbon dioxide and other organic waste in just 12 weeks. That’s a penny I’m happy to spend!

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