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Can plastic really be eco-friendly?

Plastic bottles bent into recycling shape

We’re recycling more than ever, ‘green’ plastics are popping up in our packaging and eco companies are considering using it instead of card. Has the world gone mad – or is plastic getting a green makeover?

Is plastic the new eco saviour? Perhaps not a question you’d expect to hear from someone who aspires to be a green goddess, but one that we might have to seriously consider.

There’s been a lot of noise about plastic recently. Last month we reported on how plastic recycling is booming, with 40,000 tonnes of mixed plastics collected in 2009 – up by almost 50% over 2008, according to figures released by recycling charity Recoup.

New ‘eco’ plastic packaging

Then, last week, the water company Volvic announced a new ‘greener bottle’, made with 25% recycled plastic and 20% plant material. If that doesn’t impress you much, consider that it has a 38% lower packaging carbon footprint and 16% lower lifecycle footprint.

A great improvement, but hardly a revolution – especially when the greenest thing to do is shun plastic bottles altogether and buy a reusable water bottle. But let’s face facts – many people will continue to buy countless plastic bottles and throw them away. Reducing the carbon footprint of packaging production is one part of the problem solved.

Does durability deliver?

This week, The Guardian took this argument one step further, putting forward a pretty robust argument for plastic to be used more.

Citing organic box scheme, Riverford Organics, it was suggested that the durability of plastic boxes could reduce the company’s carbon footprint by up to 70% – if only the customers would warm to the idea. Apparently, the idea’s been scrapped due to customers’ dislike for plastics.

I can’t say I blame them – the idea of buying an organic veg box which is delivered in a plastic container does seem a little absurd. But then how long do those ‘eco-friendly’ cardboard boxes last – three, maybe four deliveries?

I can see the logic here – when durability is a key factor, plastic makes sense, but there’s still a long way to go before plastic becomes my best friend.


Re-usability is the key to a quick and easy way to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

Well designed plastic containers and bags can be used many many times , my supermarket “bags for life” get used every week and they are still going strong several years later.
When they are beyond use they can then hopefully be recycled.

Paper and cardboard dont survive more than a couple of journeys and if they get damp or contaminated can not be recycled.
Re-use is the ultimate way to recycle.

I actually think there should be a strict limits to the number of different plastics being used in packaging – say four – with four distinct properties and crucially four different colours to identity them on sight . Then it would be far easier to identify them by colour during recycling.

Re-usability will only work if it is convenient to reuse.like universal sized carrier bags – because I see a great many people throwing away perfectly reusable plastic bags. An example is the Sainsburys “a point awarded for every bag reused” now although the numbers reused has increased – I have never actually seen anyone apart from me actually using them during my weekly shop. My “single use” bags last many months.

There should also be a different system to the metal staples in magazines that is far easier to recycle – like a glue..
Equally products such as plastic “Jiffy” envelopes – those with glued plastic inserts should be banned as they can’t be recycled – surely it is better to use the paper padded envelopes instead?

Aluminium lined milk cartons should be redesigned to be say all plastic to allow more recycling.