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Tackling the Plastic Crisis

8 November 2019 by Food&HotelAsia

The Plastic Crisis

Have you ever considered the amount of packaging you toss each day? The containers our food comes in, the utensils we dine with, the bottled beverage, that bag of chips, the plastic bag that contained all these items – you get the idea. The amount of plastic packaging we toss on the daily is alarming. In fact, according to a report by Earth Policy Institute, about one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the globe. That is nearly two million every minute. There is a need to rethink our use of plastics and the amount of packaging we toss (considering packaging represents 65per cent of household trash) and find ways towards a more sustainable future.

 

The Need to be Sustainable Now More Than Ever

2018 left every nation panicking when China dropped word about refusing to be the world’s dumping ground for trash. China has been the world’s largest importer of waste, accepting some 279 million metric tonnes of America’s scrap alone over a quarter of a century, and had been the dumping ground for more than half of the planet’s scrap, at its peak importing almost nine million tonnes of plastic trash annually according to Greenpeace.


A worker inspects plastic for recycling at a factory in Wuhan, in Hubei province, China in 2010. Picture: Alamy

When they pulled out, global waste exporters found themselves with higher costs of disposal for their trash and countries are forced to face the reality of what China has been dealing with – heaps and heaps of trash. It was a true wakeup call that led the government and many nations scrambling to find solutions to reduce that amount of waste. With these effects bleeding into 2019, this year saw many huge changes both in businesses and the government.

 

What businesses are doing

1. Compostable and Biodegradable Packaging

While this is not new territory, companies are turning to more sustainable types of packaging like compostable and biodegradable packaging.  We speak to BioPak, a leading disposable foodservice packaging provider for their insights on compostable packaging.

 “In New Zealand alone, more than one million tonnes of plant matter and food scraps are sent to landfills each year, representing about 320 kilograms of organic matter for each one of us.” the company shares. “Industrial composting presents a huge opportunity to prevent food waste and compostable packaging from ending up in landfills where it otherwise releases methane – a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2, which contributes to climate change.”

 

BioPak’s BioCane Bowl and Sauce Cup, Image: BioPak 

BioPak Sustainability Director Richard Fine says “plant-based compostable packaging is the first step towards zero waste with the next step being the introduction of industrial composting to close the loop and address the broader issue of food waste ending up in landfill.” 

“We provide alternatives to conventional plastic and polystyrene takeaway packaging using rapidly renewable materials such as bagasse which is certified home compostable – meaning it breaks down without any toxic residue,” says Jeremy Yeo, sales director of BioPak Singapore.

Some examples would be bamboo or bagasse fibre bowls, wooden utensils and straws, all of which can be broken down at a certain temperature, thereby being compostable. Biodegradables on the other hand can be broken down by organic enzymes such as bacteria in the dirt or fungus.

Some companies have even gone to the extent of creating edible materials, such as edible rice straws which can be chewed on and digested as well.

Edible straws made from rice and tapioca, Image: MiStraws

 

2. Rethinking packaging

Often, we grab a bag of chips and we notice the amount of chips contained fills merely half of the bag. Companies are also rethinking the size of their packaging. One example is Nestle Singapore’s Milo Powder, which changed its packaging to now available in smaller packet sizes without cutting any amount on the powder in it. This move helped them save 30 tonnes of plastic laminate material each year! That is huge, considering all it took was a small tweak in their existing packaging design.

Nestle’s Milo Powder Packaging stats, Photo: National Environment Agency, Singapore

 

3. Transparency

While most articles would place “Recyclable and Reusable” materials as one of the most important factors in sustainable packaging, we believe this should already be a given. What is more important is transparency. If you have read most of our articles, you would have already known that sustainability is one of the things consumers often look out for in products that they purchase these days. And with government implementations (which we will touch on later), there is an increased pressure for companies to rethink and make substantial changes to be more sustainable or “appear to be sustainable”. That could also mean lying or hiding certain truths about their new “sustainable” features.

Remember when SunChips made the world’s first compostable bag? Yes, the noisy one. They announced that their bag breaks down entirely after 14 weeks in a compost bin. While most were more caught up with the noise, some tested the claim out only to find in to be false. This was later explained by the Frito-Lays that the 14 weeks was only possible if it was put in a hot enough compost environment, instead of just the ground, which was what most of them did. A lie? Not really. Just selective marketing and deliberately insufficient details.

BioPak shares the same sentiment as well. “Transparency is a core motivator to help promote and drive change. This commitment has been created with the aim of making more than 350 businesses across the globe accountable. Targets have been set to reduce waste and look at alternative solutions. The world will be watching closely to see the year-on-year changes and developments that has been made by some of the biggest users of plastic across the globe. Viable alternatives to single-use plastics are out there, and we hope to drive change.”

 

What governments are doing

While companies are exploring more sustainable forms of packaging, government bodies around the world are also tightening their reign on plastic waste as well. The European Parliament has announced its plans to ban single-use plastics in the EU since 2018,  but it is only in this year that they finalised this law. The vote by the members of the European Parliament would ban single-use plastics like plastic bags and utensils by 2021, fully in force in all EU member states. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also announced in June this year that they would do the same, though he did not specify what the single use products were.

In 2015, New York City had announced its own “Zero Waste” plan by 2030. While that is still a long shot, the city has a growing list of organisations and campaigns exploring different ways to reduce plastic and food wastage.

Just last month Singapore has also launched “The Resource Sustainability Bill” which would make it mandatory for larger producers of waste to re-use and recycle more.

Plans on reducing waste, Image: Straits Times Graphics

 

Conclusion

2019 is indeed a definitive year in the zero plastics movement. While many of these plans and measures are still at infancy stages, it is heartening to see governments and businesses coming together in support of the same cause. BioPak concludes this article by sharing what it means for them as a business to work for the zero plastic cause, and the importance of doing it NOW.

 “Governments are dealing with sustainability initiatives in different ways at various speed. BioPak is committed to help grow the compost infrastructure to ultimately reduce more organic waste to landfill and tackle climate change together with our customers globally. Therefore, we have signed up to the Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

We exist to drive change, inspire the market and lead the transition towards a circular economy. We are committed to raising awareness about the environmental impacts of single-use plastic food service packaging and promoting single-use plastic alternative.

It’s never too late to change direction once there is awareness that a specific behaviour, choice or decision is having a detrimental impact.

Now is the perfect time to commit to change while the topic is front and centre in the minds of businesses, governments and consumers. Because of the current global awareness (#climatestrike) now is the time for all sectors to collaborate, there is still time to fix the problem and by working together towards a common goal, together we will make the world a better place for current and future generations.”

 

 

Find out what FHA-Food & Beverage exhibitors like BioPak are doing to contribute to the sustainability movement in this video on “Sustainability”, a part of the #FHAUncovers series exploring current industry trends and happenings.