The Plastic Footprint Debate.

April 03, 2019

With the use of plastic and its impact being a frequently discussed topic, below we discuss the current situation and its potential correlating influence on our health.

The BBC recently released an article analysing BP’s Annual Energy Outlook document, where some interesting findings worth discussing were reported. The first being that despite renewable energy sources set to become the worlds powerhouse by 2040, the demand for oil is set to remain strong in the coming decades primarily. However, what stands out the most is their claim that going plastic free, or even attempting to cut back on the material, could rebound and make the problem worse.

Now of course this is something we would expect one of the world’s biggest oil companies to say, especially with oil being a money-making ingredient of plastic. However, upon delving further into their argument, they communicate the speculative worldwide ban on single use plastics by 2040 to account for over 1/3 of all plastic produced in 2017.

This worldwide shift will of course limit their demand, which they accept, however the document debates that the material swap may incur greater costs in terms of energy and carbon emissions; impacting the air we breathe further. Speaking to the BBC, BP’s chief economist Spencer Dale said: "If you swap a plastic bottle for a glass bottle, that uses about 80% more energy. That will be more energy, more carbon emissions". The effect of this air pollution would then lead annually to more cases of respiratory illness and asthma for our working population.

Last November, researchers at Heriot-Watt University also published a study agreeing that an outright ban on plastics could cause significant damage to the environment we live, play and work in.

Professor David Buckland who led the study explained: "Banning or reducing their use would have a massive impact on the way we live and work".

He also added that “because plastics are lightweight, transportation of consumer goods in plastic packaging means fewer vehicles are required for transportation of those goods, therefore burning less fuel and greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions".

Nevertheless, despite this convincing viewpoint, campaigners remain unconvinced, viewing it as BP clearly protecting their own interests.

"Fossil fuel giants will make countless billions in the future if the production of single-use plastic continues at current rates" said Louise Edge, from Greenpeace UK.

Louise adds, "While it's true that it takes less energy to produce and transport plastic than glass, a glass bottle can be reused dozens of times and is infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic. Plus, materials like glass when they escape collection don't go on polluting our oceans and rivers for hundreds of years."

In line with this, steps to encourage recycling are well underway. The UK for example will commission a new tax on the manufacturing and importation of all plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled material. This is due to come into effect in 2022, in addition to the promise of extra carbon taxes as the government focuses on reducing emissions. In turn, plastic will become more expensive whilst ensuring that alternatives refine from making the climate situation worse.

Currently, we are seeing more and more companies coming on board to help find alternatives, and taking responsibility in reducing their plastic footprint – the most recent being one of the world’s largest packaged food companies, Nestlé. Putting the challenge into context: Nestlé who run over 100 different water bottling operations in 34 countries across the world have promised to eliminate all single use plastics from its line and to make all of its packaging recycling or renewable. Each production line at these factories can produce up to 1,200 bottles a minute, and most operate on a 24/7 basis. So, for these food giants there is no immediate financial gain, with new packaging likely to be more costly than what they use today.

So why do it? Many ask...

Firstly, there is no doubting that 2018 was the year the world finally started to wake up to the dangers of plastic, which took the shape of a global movement to get straws banned in cities across the world. Secondly, the food industry is superb at responding to ever-evolving consumer preferences, and reducing plastic appears to be the flavour of the year, if not decade.

At Healthy Nibbles, we are also committed to positively impacting people and therefore continually strive to understand the global importance of this debate and its correlating impact on our overall health and wellbeing. From a business point of view, we also understand its importance collectively across all industries, believing it to be an important topic to monitor and assess in relation to global actions and trends for decision making and planning purposes.





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