The importance of recycling plastic

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The importance of reducing single-use plastics that cannot be easily recycled has been recognised by the supermarket giant, Tesco. Following the lead set by Iceland, Tesco has pledged to ensure that their own brand products are not packaged in plastic that is hard to recycle. This is set to happen by the end of this year.

Materials such as HDPE and PET that are suitable for plastic recycling will still be used by Tesco, but items such as some yoghurt pots, the polystyrene discs used for packaging pizzas and black ready meal containers will go. They will be replaced by materials such as paper, cardboard, glass and aluminium. Rather than packaging their own brand mushrooms in plastic boxes wrapped in PVC film, Tesco is likely to sell them in paper bags.

Bioplastics which are claimed to be biodegradable are also set to be banned because these actually take an extremely long time before they start breaking down.

Environmental groups have welcomed the move by Tesco, with Greenpeace calling it a potential game changer. Although the move will help towards reducing the volume of plastic in the oceans of the world and the damage to aquatic life, Greenpeace has said that it should not stop there and that there is more to be done. The move was described as a no-brainer and the supermarket was urged to implement the changes without delay since there are already alternatives available.

In addition to moving more towards plastics that are suitable for plastic recycling and to other materials, Tesco intends to remove best before dates from some of its own label vegetables and fruit. This should help in the fight against food waste, where perfectly usable products are disposed of simply because they are past their best before dates.

Jason Tarry, Tesco’s chief product officer, has said that the firm is committed to reducing the overall amount of packaging it uses. He said that the company would ideally like to move towards a closed loop system and has called on the government to implement a consistent plastic recycling infrastructure that would avoid waste completely.

Mr Tarry pledged that the company would work with its suppliers to redesign all the packaging materials they use and to reduce them. All hard to recycle plastic packaging would be removed from the business by 2019.

Greenpeace UK’s oceans campaigner, Elena Polisano, welcomed Tesco’s inclusion of biodegradable plastics, as this showed that the company was committed to avoid false solutions such as these. Although they do break down over time, these plastics require specific conditions that are not always present in natural environments, meaning that they can remain in the environment causing harm to wildlife.

Ms Polisano also said that, as the largest grocer in the UK, Tesco could be a game changer as far as the plastic packaging was concerned.

Julian Kirby, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, also agreed that the move was advantageous with respect to recyclability. Whilst recycling can deal with some plastics, non-recyclable plastics create a big problem for the environment.

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