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  • Abhay Bhagwat

When finding solutions to stop plastic pollution, perfection is often the enemy of good enough

This Article is a Perfect Example of the Confused Messaging we see in the Media about Plastics.

In a BBC article, Sainsbury’s is criticised by a plastics charity (A Plastics Planet) for changing their packaging for beef mince from a tray to a vacuum packed flexible pouch. These pouches will lead to a reduction of 450 tonnes of plastic each year and save them money.

Co-Founder at A Plastics Planet Sian Sunderland criticised the change saying that this was no more environmentally friendly than switching from petrol to diesel. She is unimpressed with the move because she points out that flexible packs like the ones Sainsbury’s has switched to can’t be recycled.

Sainsbury’s head of fresh food pointed out that the old plastic trays had a thin film lid with the same problem. He said that while one can’t have the flexible plastic picked up at home, there are many places where it can be collected, with environmental campaigning organisation Wrap joining the conversation to say that there are 6000 pick-up points in the UK.

With our in-depth expertise in these areas, we believe that Sainsbury’s has done the right thing in choosing the option that has reduced the weight of plastic use so substantially. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is the best thing to do now. Why do we think so?

  • The earlier plastic trays were PET; in the UK, only PET bottles are recycled, not trays. The trays had a plastic film lid, which was not recycled. So, both these parts were going to the landfill or incinerated - despite the trays going into main recycling collections and the UK having 6000 pick up points for the flexible thin lids.

  • The new pouches are also not recycled and will go to landfill/incineration.

  • But with the new pack format, 450 tons less will go to landfill/incineration.

So while this new flexible packaging is not the perfect solution environmentally speaking, it is a good choice on Sainsbury’s part.

Incidentally, some customers are now complaining that they don’t like the new packaging because it makes the beef mince lumpy. Sainsbury’s says that with a slight change in consumer habits (presumably, with the added step of spreading out the lumps), the cooked product will be of the same quality as before. Time will tell if sales will reduce, but we feel that Saisbury’s will have thought through and tested this aspect before making the change.

We need recycling of flexibles to become established in the future. But as things stand today, we endorse Sainbury’s move and don’t agree with the well-intentioned criticism from “A Plastics Planet” for the reasons cited above.

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