Can the private sector fix the plastic waste crisis?

27th March 2018 | Recycling

Guilt is a beautiful thing, sadly maligned in our instant gratification culture. It’s what keeps us in check, causes us to reassess our own actions and then rectify them. Take the plastic waste choking our oceans and poisoning all the little fishes from the inside out. That’s on us, thank you very much Blue Planet II. But what are we going to do about it?

Jim Brisby is a surfer, so he’s personally familiar with the issue of ocean plastic. As the commercial director at FTSE 250 food company Cranswick, he also just happens to be someone with the power to change it. He and chief executive Adam Couch recently announced a plan to cut Cranswick’s plastic packaging output in half by 2025.

“We were quite surprised at how that could be done so easily. Having looked at that for a while, we realised we can do that, so we looked at each other and said shall we do it then? Well we’d better had, hadn’t we?” Brisby recalls.

Plastic Waste

But how does a well-meaning firm reduce its “plastic footprint”? It’s not as though you can just stop using the stuff – plastic packaging is uniquely valuable in reducing food waste and is also, ironically, a relatively low carbon option.

Cranswick went after the lowest-hanging fruit first: use less plastic per kilo of product. It also tried to use more recycled plastics in its packaging, but there it came across a problem: the packaging companies’ consistent message was that they couldn’t get their hands on enough recycled plastic.

“The economics of recycling don’t always stack up,” says Libby Peake, senior policy advisor for the Green Alliance. This means only 39% of UK plastics are recycled according to official figures, though the proportion could be ten percentage points lower. There are various reasons why. Low quality plastics, such as are commonly found in ready meal trays, can’t be recycled economically in countries with high labour and energy costs like the UK.

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