Compostable packaging infrastructure can solve the plastic packaging issue
Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and Co-founder of compostable packaging producer TIPA, calls for a significant investment in facilities capable of dealing with compostable packaging to address the problems posed by plastic packaging
The petrol-powered motor was first invented in 1885, however, it took until 1913 to become mass produced and cemented as a cornerstone of daily life. The replacement of the horse and carriage with the car was revolutionary. However, the development of the infrastructure to ensure cars would, for example, always be within driving distance of a petrol station took a considerable amount of time and investment. The car, no matter how revolutionary, would be redundant without the infrastructure to ensure the driver can access petrol stations and garages.
In a similar manner, since the public turned their backs on single-use plastic, innovation to bridge the gap that plastic will leave in its wake has thrived. Re-imagining plastic, and a world without it, has caused a global shift that has prompted an analysis of redundant practices and investment in innovative solutions. But as demonstrated by the introduction of the car, an innovation can only flourish if there is an infrastructure to enable it.
Traditionally, recycling initiatives have largely focused on plastic, but plastic recycling is not a catch-all solution to this global crisis. For example, most flexible packaging is too complex, contaminated by food, and too lightweight to be recycled. As a result, out of the 400,000 tonnes of plastic packaging that is used annually in the UK, only four per cent gets recycled. This is a deeply worrying statistic given the decades the UK recycling system has dedicated to plastic. Even if recycling were a viable option for flexible packaging, which it is not, recycling plastic still doesn’t solve the issue of plastic – it only delays its final disposal in landfill.
Let’s be clear: the last remaining barrier for solving this challenge is the lack of infrastructure for compostable packaging. The technology is available, consumers and brands are already willing to make the switch, all that's missing is the investment in existing technology. The need to transition away from a linear economy has never been greater. Currently, British composting and anaerobic digestion plants treat more than five million tonnes of green and food waste annually, and this is set to continue to increase. Although it is evident that the technology to treat thousands of tonnes of bioplastics exists, investment into these technologies is required.
This is especially important given that the new UK Government committed to alternative materials during the previous Parliament, stating it would collect compostable packaging along with organic waste from all over the country by 2023. Investment into appropriate infrastructure therefore opens the possibility of completely replacing flexible plastic packaging with compostable alternatives, which will dramatically reduce the use of non-recyclable plastic packaging by replacing it with something that can be used as a resource. Recycling companies and plants that are not operating industrial composters need to be given sufficient incentives to develop and enable sustainable solutions to prosper.
The global climate crisis has made it clear that most of the challenges we face today have taken on an increasingly social dimension. Global protests, school strikes and a constant news cycle showing the devastation that plastic pollution is causing has created an interconnected world with a clear ambition – to turn off the plastic tap. The alternative solutions to plastic in response have never been greater. However, whilst the current recycling infrastructure continues to focus on plastic, progress at the rate required will not be achieved.
Why wait 28 years, like the uptake of the car, to implement revolutionary technologies? The demand for change is clear. The innovation to support this demand exists. Investment into infrastructure is required. The new government has a golden opportunity to reduce our reliance on plastic. There is not a moment to lose.
You can read more about TIPA on the company's website.