Biodegradable or compostable plastic packaging may seem progressively green, but a new report explains why they are not.
As anti-plastic sentiment has grown in recent years, many corporations and retailers have responded by making grandiose promises to improve sustainability. They promise to reduce waste by replacing packaging with biodegradable or compostable plastics, switching from plastic to paper products, and adopting 'advanced' chemical recycling methods.
While these promises may sound good, a new report from Greenpeace USA explains that they are not, and they add up to little more than greenwash. Titled “Throwing Out the Future: How Businesses Still Get Bad on Plastic Pollution“ Solutions ”, the report tells consumers to“ be skeptical of the so-called solutions announced by multinational corporations for face the crisis of plastic pollution ”.
As the report explains, recent research has shown that biodegradable and compostable plastics are not much better than conventional plastics, as they do not degrade sufficiently and continue to cause damage to the natural environment.
The switch to paper-on-plastic packaging may be better in some ways, but it still drives deforestation when we need to preserve the world's shrinking forests - and more than ever. The emphasis on recycling as a solution to plastic waste is equally shortsighted. Of the report:
“Recycling systems cannot keep up with the large volume of plastic waste generated. Even in Germany, which has one of the highest recycling rates in the world based on collection, more than 60% of all plastic waste is burned, and only 38% is recycled. ".
Relatively little is understood about chemical recycling, which is the dissolution of plastic polymers using chemical solvents or thermal depolymerization. These processes result in a degraded form of plastic (which will eventually go to waste anyway) and generates potentially dangerous by-products. The industry is unregulated, energy intensive and not transparent at all.
It is an example of focusing only on end-of-life strategies, ignoring the consequences for human health and the environment of the entire plastic life cycle.
The Greenpeace USA report wants consumers to understand that these kinds of promises are a form of green washing. What we need a lot more than that is a 180 degree change in the way products are packaged:
“There is no way the planet can handle additional demand from companies trying to replace their single-use plastic packaging with paper or cardboard; companies must commit to reducing overall packaging and switching to alternative delivery systems such as reuse and recharge ”.
This is much more difficult to implement than simply replacing one form of disposable packaging with another. This requires real innovation, changes in consumer behavior, and new infrastructure. But it is also the only way to go.
With 12 million metric tons of plastic estimated to drown natural environments by 2050, there is no time to waste to make real change, without offering false hope.
Katherine Martinko, article in English