According to Eurostat:
- In 2017, 6,9 billion tn of materials were consumed in the EU28.
- According to PlasticsEurope that same year 51,2 million tn of plastics were consumed, representing 0.7% of the total material consumption
- Plastic waste accounts for approximately 1% of total waste.
- Plastic packaging accounts for 19% of the total packaging waste, at the same level as glass and clearly below 41% of paper and cardboard
The contrast between these low figures and the false perception that most waste is plastic is surprising.
This “Fata Morgana” is originated by its lightness combined with the other properties of plastics. They are ubiquitous, but only account for 1% of total waste and 19% of packaging waste.
- They can be opaque, translucent, or transparent
- They can be rigid or flexible
- Permeable or impermeable to different gases
- They look weak, but they are extraordinarily strong
- They are allies of other materials. They protect paper and cardboard and prevent metal containers from transmitting flavour’s to beverages or food. E.g. beverage cartons and cans
- Any type of shape can be manufactured
- Reusable or single-use packaging
- Raw materials can be of fossil or renewable origin
- They can be biodegradable and compostable
- They can be recycled through different technologies, mechanical and / or chemical
Their lightness and versatility has led to their widespread use, occupying a very large visual space, which generates a false perception of quantity, especially packaging products.
Remember. Packages are auxiliary products whose main functions are:
- Protect: Avoid the total or partial loss of a good between manufacture and consumption, whether a raw material, a semi-finished or a consumer product. The losses can occur due to various causes such as impacts, contaminations, permeabilities, humidity ect
- Preserve:Extend the shelf life of a product through heat, cold, dehydration, vacuum packaging, in controlled and /or modified atmospheres ect
- Inform: providing the necessary information about the characteristics and properties of the product: expiration dates, composition, instructions for use, manufacturer, barcode ect
Removing or replacing plastic packaging can lead to a sharp increase in waste and greenhouse emissions
Consequences of total packaging removal
According to the European Commission https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/fw_lib_reduce-food-waste-eu_faqs.pdf
- Each year approximately 88 million tons of food waste are generated (20% of the total) with an associated cost of €143,000 million.
- Food waste has a huge environmental impact, accounting for around 6% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions and an unnecessary burden on limited natural resources such as land and water use.
Despite the sophisticated packaging in use today, 53% of food waste occurs in households and 5% during retailing, eliminating these packaging would probably be environmentally reckless as it would skyrocket waste generation, greenhouse gas emissions and food contamination with the possible consequences on people’s health.
The priority should be to reduce food waste and the use of high-tech packaging is one of the keys.
Based on the actual weighing of more than 120 products according to the formula: Clean container weight/ Net content
Plastic packaging accounts for on average approximately 2-3% of the net weight of food and beverages. The risk-benefit of removing packaging doesn’t make sense.
If we packaged more and better some products such as fruits, food waste could be substantially reduced.
Substitution. Simulation of impacts depending on the packaging material
In Europe in 2019 some 129,000 million L of soft drinks, bottled water, dilutables and juices & nectars were consumed.
- The average weight of the 1 L plastic bottle (PET) 30 g and 550 g that of glass.
- Both bottles are single-use
- All beverages are sold in 1 L bottles
- We analyse only the impact from the bottler to the retailer. Average distance 100km
- The load per truck will be 20 tn. We will not consider the volume of bottles, stacking limitations and different types of trucks
- The real mix of packaging is very varied both in materials and formats. There are barrels, jugs, cans, bottles and beverage cartons
- Small formats are less efficient than large formats
- The content has also an impact. Bottles containing carbonated beverages weigh more
- The study only aims to highlight the need to analyse the impacts depending on the packaging material.
- The glass bottle weighs 1,800% or 18 times more than the plastic bottle
- Generates 67 million tn more waste
- Emits 290 million tn more CO2
- In other words, the use of plastic bottles reduces 95% resource consumption and emission
Other examples in summary form:
The plastic container of a yogurt weighs 4% of the content, while if it is glass it weighs 70% of the content, 1,750% more.
A retractable plastic for a pack of 12 cans of 33 cl weighs 20 g, if we change it for a cardboard box the weight goes up to 100 g, 500% more.
It is very important to choose the right material because the impact on the environment is very different.
We want to make clear that to make sound decisions, more complete studies are needed, LCAs are the best instrument.
EU28 packaging recycling ratios in 2018 (Eurostat)
Plastic recycling was 41.8% compared to 82.9% for paper and cardboard, 80% for metal packaging and 74.7% for glass.
This very low ratio clearly plays against plastic.
The development of new recycling technologies will allow the recycling of plastic packaging to increase significantly over the next few years.
- The omnipresence of plastics together with the large visual space they occupy generates a false perception of quantity.
- It is the material that is least recycled and most found in the environment (in units)
- All this generates a bad image and puts in the focus of public opinion and legislators.
- On the other hand, efficiency, versatility, and its great contribution to the reduction of food waste and greenhouse gas emissions are mostly unknown. “Good news no news”
Legislating on this matter requires a great deal of objectivity and awareness that there is no room for laws that go against climate change or citizens health.
Only the power of data can guarantee this objectivity. It is necessary to follow the path they show, not ignore them and above all do not take the path of false perceptions.
How to shoot in your own foot by legislating against plastic packaging