Is your kitchen bin or recycling overflowing with plastic bags containers and produce wrapping? Plastic has become so commonplace that it’s easy to overlook how much of it you use and forget it doesn’t just disappear when it leaves your home.
More than 320 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally over 40 percent of which was single-use. Recycling helps to tackle the problem but as seen One’s Inside the Supermarket food shops are also considering what they can do to single-use plastics.
Which bag is best?
Once upon a time the average person in England got through 140 single-use plastic carrier bags a year. We’ve slashed this by a staggering 86 percent partly due to the plastic bag tax and a heightened awareness of the detrimental effects of plastic on the environment. But major retailers in England still sold 1.75 billion plastic bags.
When it comes to choosing a bag do you know your options?
It takes more than four times as much to produce a paper bag as it does a plastic bag. Paper also weighs more than plastic making transport emissions higher.
The Environment Agency finds paper bags need to be used at least three times to have lower global potential than standard plastic bags used only once. But paper bags do not tend to be reused. However paper is recycled at a higher rate than plastic so landfill is less of a problem.
By comparison a bag for life made of low-density polyethylene needs to be used at least four times to have lower global potential than those standard plastic bags used just once. While this seems doable it still adds to plastic pollution if you throw it away. Cotton bags need to be used 131 times but they last well and down on plastic pollution dramatically.
Whatever type of bags you use the key to minimising environmental impact is to use them as often as possible until they break and then return them to a supermarket bag collection point which many chains now provide. Lots of these ‘bins’ also accept plastic wrap from bread cereal boxes toilet roll freezer bag ring-joiners and lots of other single-use plastic items. Ask in store if you’re not sure if your shop has one or what it accepts.
Is plastic ever better?
Some vegetables such as cucumbers bananas peppers and potatoes and meats such as beef can last much longer when wrapped in plastic. This is due to the oxygen-free environment or micro-climate that can be created.
So which is for the environment – plastic or food waste? We enter the plastic paradox.
According to anti-waste WRAP increasing the shelf life of produce by just one day would save UK shoppers up to £500 million per year by cutting back on their food waste.
One way to avoid the need for long-life fresh ingredients is to shop for them locally so you can easily pop back when you want something. “Veg box deliveries and local markets or greengrocers are a way of packaging while supporting local businesses”, says Emma Priestland plastics campaigner at Friends.
Kathryn Kellogg the founder of Going Zero Waste and author of ‘101 Ways to Go Zero Waste’, recommends shopping for whole foods rather than processed. “Most of the processed foods we buy come in a lot of packaging and fruits and vegetables tend to come with less. Bring your own container to buy meat and cheese from the deli and butcher. If available, you can also grab staples like nuts, grains and legumes from bulk bins”.
Pasta rice and dried beans and pulses are often sold wrapped in plastic and if they weren’t they could be spoiled by water, creating food waste. If there is a plastic-free shop offering refill schemes near to you can take along reusable containers.