/ Food & Drink

Do we need to rethink our reliance on plastic?

plastic bottles

Did you know that less than 10% of plastic bottles are made with recycled materials? Doesn’t seem like much, does it…

Recently, The Guardian reported that a survey of five of the six biggest soft drinks firms found just 7% of throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials.

To put that figure into context, it equates to more than two million tonnes of throwaway plastic soft drinks bottles every year. What’s more, Greenpeace, which conducted the research, says that if figures from Coca-Cola were included, the numbers would be much higher.

Single-use plastic

There’s a growing lobby for companies to move away from single-use plastic and embrace reusable packaging and make sure the rest is made from 100% recycled content.

And with that shockingly high percentage of drinks bottles that are made from single-use plastic, I can see why.

With an increase in the volume of recycling, and more advanced technology to do so, should using recycled materials in this kind of mass production be a prerequisite?

What makes this even more pressing is the growing concern around plastic making its way in to the fish and seafood we eat.

Last summer, Plymouth University released a report stating that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. While a recent study by Ghent University in Belgium calculated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year.

According to experts, we only absorb fewer than 1% of these fragments, but they still accumulate in our body over time – and we’re yet to find out exactly what impact this is having on our health.

Cleaning up this plastic mess

So what do we do about this?

Maybe there needs to be clearer information on packaging to show what proportion contains recycled materials, too. Not only would this make the companies’ practices more transparent, it would also enable those of us who want to shop more ethically to do so.

When it comes to improving recycling, while plastic bag charging has squeezed people’s wallets, progress reports show that it’s encouraging behaviour change – so should a similar tactic be tried here?

So, do you think more could be done to clean up our plastics usage? What do you think is the solution here?

This is a guest contribution by Hannah Jolliffe, a freelance writer. All views expressed here are Hannah’s own and not necessarily those shared by Which?.

Comments
Member

I don’t buy bottled water because I would rather have tap water and I’m not wasting plastic. When I go walking I take a plastic bottle filled with tap water. It must have been filled a hundred times.

My fridge is kept as cold as possible without freezing and a 2 litre container of milk lasts about a week, but that’s 50 plastic bottles binned each year.

Sadly, I have at least a hundred ‘fresh’ soup containers – each about 35g of polypropylene, which is non-biodegradable. Some have been used in the garage for storing screws, nails, etc and others stacked and waiting to find a use. I always used to make my own soups, but have become lazy in the past year. I must go back to making my own soups and storing the surplus in the in the freezer. I have some suitable containers.

Thanks for raising this important environmental issue, Hannah. It is well established that plastic microparticles are a serious problem for aquatic animals. Maybe when we learn of the dangers to humans we might become less addicted to use of disposable plastics.

Member
Winn says:
17 April 2017

is there a reason why people don’t use metal flasks which keep a liquid at the temperature at which it was poured into the flask?

Member

Money-Winn -aka-profit. cheaper to produce , I actually maintained conveyor belts and plastic extrusion plant in one factory that produced plastic objects , not so easy to do when its metal .

Member

I use stainless steel vacuum flasks if I want to take milk or water [or other drinks] out with me. They are not that expensive and are lighter and easier to clean than traditional vacuum flasks.

Member

Admirable efforts all round @wavechange. I consider myself to be extremely green-conscious but my eco-endeavours pale in comparison. I now bring my reusable, metal WaterAid flask I bought at Glastonbury a couple of years ago into work with me everyday to dissuade myself grabbing a plastic cup every morning.

I would love to be able to make my own soups and other meals that would normally use a lot of packaging. It’s just a shame that all of the ingredients for these big meals normally come wrapped in a lot of packaging themselves.

Member
Philippa says:
22 April 2017

I do make my own soups especially in the winter and since the large plastic pots that ready-made soups come in usually take two portions and recipes usually make four I have recently been reusing a pot to put the remainder in and often freeze it allowing us extra time to eat it in.
Some of the pots have peel off labels. You get to know which soups you are going to be bothered to make. The easiest store-cupboard one I think is with a chopped onion, carrot and stick of celery softened in a little oil with a tsp of ground cumin and tsp ground coriander. Add half a cup of red lentils and about 1 litre stock made from cube or powder and cook for about 20 min. Add more water if necessary.

I now always use a slow cooker to put the carcase in to make stock when we have had a roast chicken. This stock can then be frozen for soup when anyone has a cold (proven to help) or used in fried rice using leftover meat. We always manage at least three meals from a roast chicken. Too much meat left over then freeze some – don’t just keep on eating it until you are sick of the sight of it!

We are lucky that we can recycle all our plastic pots and tubs although we prefer to dramatically reduce the number we use. It is the plastic film that we find irritating. A lot of this can be taken to the larger supermarkets to recycle with the carrier bags – and it says this on the packaging but has NEVER EVER said this on the carrier bag recycling banks! Also not enough of the supermarket packaging film is marked up like this. “Check local recycling” is exasperating and we need to call on the supermarkets not only to update their packaging but to make it recyclable. If it doesn’ t get there it doesn’t but at least there is the option.

Member
mervyn mc kay says:
18 June 2017

would everyone look at the bigger picture we are destroying the planet/ we are creating materials that will eventually suffocate the planet all the man made fibres and chemical clothing will suffocate the earth killing all life on this beautifull earth already there are billions of tons of this product poisioning our sea just for clothes that and bags to carry these material on to our land/our rivers and our seas .
OMEGA

Member
Graham says:
17 April 2017

Whilst I agree that cutting down on use of plastic and using more recycled plastics would be an all round good idea – surely the original research is a little misleading – “7% of throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials” – but of the 100% of bottles made, how many are then recycled into other products?

The plastic continents growing in all the major bodies of water suggest much much much more can be done, but all Greenpeace have really done is point of that soft drink bottles are not made from recycled material.

Member

I always keep a supply of long-life milk in case I run out of fresh and I am not well enough to visit the local store, which is sold in cardboard containers and will keep in the fridge once opened for up to 5 days. There is probably a good reason why fresh milk is not sold in this way and would be interested to know why it is not.

Member

Ultimately, us consumers are to blame for the current widespread consumption of drinks in “throwaway” bottles. We choose to buy these products; no-one is forcing us to do that.

Personally, I prefer bottled beer (or wine) to bottled water. I do my best to sentence all such “throwaway” (or single-use) bottles into my domestic recycling box.

Nonetheless, for family days out I don’t always seem to find the time to re-use squash bottles as containers for the carriage of home prepared squash, water or other refreshments. At supermarket prices, pre-bottled squash, like “Robinsons Fruit Shoot” is very inexpensive and is widely accepted by our children and their friends. From the example I have in front of me, I see that all those bottles can be recycled, but, of course, whether or not they will be is down to many factors, starting with whether or not the user can be bothered to sentence them for recycling.

Some “family friendly” restaurants like Pizza Hut and Toby Carvery now offer their customers the option of “unlimited” soft drinks by means of drink dispensers and re-usable glasses. I think it would be great if more cafes and such like did this, as it would help to reduce the usage of pre-bottled drinks.

Member

I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic bottles we get through by buying fizzy drinks and mixers in aluminium cans instead. I hope at least they get recycled. Glass is great but heavy and costs much more, so let’s get back to returnable glass. It worked in the 1950s – why not now?

Member

Hi
Maybe it is an opportunity for the glass industry need to come up with a strong thin bottle to replace the plastic for milk and make it returnable by charging ?.
2nd it is educating people to recycle and be more thoughtful on rubbish in general no one appears to give a FF with what the do with their discarded bottles, Mcdonalds, KFC packaging we are a disgraceful untidy nation

Member
lessismore says:
25 April 2017

If you look at the WRAP website you will see that a lot has been done to lighten the weight of glass bottles and jars, and of steel tins. Also the design of plastic milk bottles has been changed to reduce the amount of plastic used and strengthen the handle.

http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/GlassRight%20Wine%20lightweighing%20-%20web%20version.pdf

Member

Burning Halogenated plastics- CPE-CPVC-CSPE-polychloroproprene (Neoprene ) -PVC-Flourine based plastics-FEP – burning all those types reales DIOXIN -ring a bell ?? – India ?? -deformed babies -cancer -etc. -Know human carcinogen (WHO ) and the most POTENT human carcinogenic ever tested NIoS+T- evaluated as over 10,000 times more potent than next highest- Diethanol -500,000 times more than Arsenic -WHO- once in your body –it stays there =POP=Persistant Bio- Accumulative +Toxic. – even HMG agrees . I have not even started on the sexual/physical effect on ALL males -impotence -(now rising to high figures )- babies producing two sets of sexual organs just like the fish in our rivers because of female hormones , males unable to procreate- lack of sexual feeling , all covered up because it is un- PC to talk about it-but I will, male lives are at stakes here so I dont give a **&&%%$$ for PC when direct physical injury occurs from birth etc in males , I care about ALL human life not just one sex. Yes “plastic ” has a lot to answer for. , I brought this up before but I got -tut-tut- etc well I don’t care I am bring it up again.

Member

It’s not just plastic bottles that are an issue, too much food packaging still isn’t recyclable. I did write to Tesco last year pointing out a long list of products whose wrapping wasn’t 100% recyclable, all they did was thank me for my feedback. And guess what, nothing has happened. Needs more than just me making a nuisance of myself. How about Which set up templates for all the big companies for us little people to fire off emails ( similar to what they did with the watchdog MP appeal) maybe we could get through to them that way.

Member

See http://www.myzerowaste.com and http://www.therubbishdiet.org.uk Both Rachelle (Mrs Green) and Karen have made names for themselves by reducing their unrecyclable waste.

Member

That feedback is VERY important and more of us should be bothered to make it. Unfortunately the attitude of the supermarkets seems to be that unless there is any negative response the public are in favour of their decisions on what can be excessive and unnecessary packaging – when in fact they are just putting up with it, unaware that they can be aiding and abetting any increase and so actually making it more difficult for themselves to deal with. They need to be held to account.

Member

Milk stored in clear glass bottles apparently reduces levels of important vitamins A and C as well as some B vitamins, although calcium and other minerals remain unaffected. This is why plastic milk containers are usually opaque to prevent exposure to ultraviolet responsible for this vitamin loss.

Research led me to the Swedish origin of the Tetra Pack used for long-life milk, now produced in Switzerland, and its recycling potential.
More on this subject can be found @ en.m.wikipedia.org – Tetra Pack. Also of interest @ berkeleywellness.com – Is Milk in Plastic Bottles Less Nutritious?

Member

Beryl, it is my belief that Tetra Paks must be one of the worst offenders not going for recycling.

Maybe there are some good councils, but the majority don’t seem to collect Tetra Paks with household recycling so you have to go out of your way to find a collection point for them. Cornwall currently recycles NONE so they will ALL go to landfill. On the other hand, Scotland collects them from the kerbside so the majority should get recycled.

You can check your area here: http://www.tetrapakrecycling.co.uk/where-can-i-recycle.asp . I think the numbers on the map are a reference number and not the number of collection points.

Milk cartons, alternative to milk cartons, fruit juices, frozen deserts, we probably all use them one way or another and more effort needs to be put into recycling them.

Because we drink oat milk and get through a lot of cartons, we have a dedicated bin for Tetra Pak recycling that gets taken to one of the 2 local recycling points near us once a week.

Member

Here in Gloucester, our domestic recycling scheme includes tetra paks.

Member

Never had a problem recycling Tetra Paks in my area either. All domestic recycling waste now has to be put in the recycling bin loose (no plastic bags) to stop sanitary articles being dumped in there.

Member

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aseptic_processing

“In 1991, the Institute of Food Technologists rated the top 10 innovations in food technology. Aseptic processing and packaging ranked No. 1, ahead of juice concentrates, safe canning processes, freeze-drying and food fortification.”

Interesting.

Member

I believe that they have made the system pretty economical and so long as efforts are made to continue to be made to reuse the recycled cartons usefully they are a good packaging option. We need different types of packaging and tetrapak type cartons keep food edible for a good amount of time. They also stack well.

Member

You may find this piece of info and expanation newly issued to residents in the South Hams in Devon interesting:

https://www.southhams.gov.uk/article/3228/Cartons-Can-Now-be-Recycled-in-Blue-Sack-Collections

Member

Thank you Lessismore. It was interesting to see what the end-use is for the recycled cartons.

Member

I confess that we buy small plastic bottles of fizzy water to make soft drinks from cordials. But we do reuse our plastic several times, if possible.

For example, the drink bottles are filled with tap water and chilled for the gym or bike rides or days out. Yoghurt tubs and similar are used to mix paints, store screws, bolts and other paraphernalia or starting seedlings. So nearly all our plastic is reused before it is put into recycling.

Although it’s far from green, plastic bottles and containers are extremely light to transport. They don’t need returning and sterilising for reuse like old milk bottles, so they are not that bad. And now that we use green bags for our shopping, we have to buy many more black waste bags for our non-recyclable rubbish. We also have to use far more water because so much recycled waste has to be washed and dried before putting into the bin. Overall, I don’t believe our policies have been well thought out.

Member
Philippa says:
22 April 2017

What about a soda siphon? I looked into these as they were probably still are readily available in stores at the time – and I thought I’d get one for the office. We don’t buy bottled water – and we always ask for tap water in restaurants – after all we are usually drinking something else as well. I myself don’t like fizzy water.
I also don’t want anything with extra salts in it which will raise my blood pressure.

We use a dustbin for our residual waste and only when it is full do we put it into a black bin bag. We used to line the dustbin with a black sack and tip our small non-recyclable bins into it but the dustbin men kept taking it – when we only make a large crisp packet/popcorn size bag of unrecyclable waste per week so it was far too big.

Member

If we take a bottle of water out with us, we quarter fill it with water and put in the freezer the night before to create a giant ice cube so we have cold water for most of the day. Make sure to freeze it on its side though otherwise the bottle might burst.

Member

Good tip.

Member

We used to do that in Spain with water. We also do this with a litre of semi-skimmed milk in a plastic bottle. If we take it out of the freezer in the evening and leave it in the kitchen sink to defrost overnight we just have to give it a shake in the morning .

Member

The large iceberg or milk-berg in a bottle helps to keep other food cool too. No need for freezer packs.

Member

It’s a pity the manufacturers don’t provide a returnable deposit for plastic bottles. For example, put up the prices of plastic bottled products by let’s say 10p for a small bottle or 25p for larger (e.g. 1+ litre) bottles. Each time someone returns a bottle when purchasing a new product, they would get that amount taken off the purchase. Those still who choose to dump the bottles in the trash will be the one’s who lose out as they’ll not get their deposit back.