Greg Hewitt is a campaigner and activist highlighting the concerns and environmental issues relating to the use of plastic. Last month Greg’s article ’One Man’s War on Plastic’ prompted local resident and chairman of National Flexible, Barry Twigg, to respond.
Barry’s company is the UK's largest distributor of polypropylene, laminates and special films, and after a career manufacturing plastic goods, he wanted to put the record straight about the virtues of this strong, innovative, robust and important material.
“I read last month’s article proposing ‘A Plastic Free Chesterfield’ with considerable interest and felt it may also be of interest to your readers to consider some of the consequences what would occur should we adopt the proposal of a Plastic Free Chesterfield. For example;
1. The NHS fight against the virus. The NHS is currently using circa 1 billion pieces per month of ‘single use plastic’ for gowns, masks, visors, gloves, shoe coverings, etc. No doubt the Royal Hospital is using its share and welcomes its weekly supplies. The Government has just placed an order for 28 billion more PPE items as demand Worldwide continues to grow.
2. Pharmaceuticals. In the UK, some 30 million people per day take tablets, add to this the millions of creams, salves, ointments and medicines, all of which come in ‘single use plastic’. These figures give just some appreciation of how much our sick and elderly rely on the safe storage and portion control of single use plastic for their medication.
3. Food Waste. Food waste is estimated to be the World's third highest contributor to global warming. China and USA being numbers 1 & 2. This is due to methane gas emissions which are 10 x more toxic than CO2 in our atmosphere. Underdeveloped nations waste up to 50% of all food produced as it is not packed due to lack of packaging in handling, storage and distribution. The UK food lost is below 10% in manufacture, distribution, storage and sale, this difference is primarily due to Single Use Plastic packaging of virtually all our perishable food. One good example is the shelf life of a cut cucumber. Unwrapped, this is 3 days, plastic wrapped it is 14 days.
4. Saving the Earth’s resources / reducing global warming. Multiple international life cycle analysis (LCA) confirm that plastic uses less of the Earth's resources and generates less CO2 emissions in manufacture than any of the alternative materials, be they paper, board, glass or tin. One example is the 2019 report from European Institute of Environmental Research which concluded that a reduction of 22 million TPA pf CO2 emissions could be achieved if these other materials currently used for packaging were all replaced by plastic.
5. Finally, all plastic is 100% recyclable, either mechanically or chemically. In the UK, we simply don’t bother to collect and separate it for recycling and reuse. With regard to plastic pollution in the oceans, the UK contributes just 0.02% of waste plastic in the oceans, this is mostly discarded fishing gear and plastic refuse thrown from boats.
The Plastics Industry, in 2019, paid £280 million for collection and recycling of waste plastic, however, the Environment Agency does not check how this money is invested and simply allows the plastic waste to be exported.”
Barry’s points remind us that no environmental action or change is straightforward, and the complexities at play in reducing the use of plastics cannot be achieved by ‘One Man’s War on Plastics’.
We all have a responsibility for reducing ‘single use, unnecessary plastics where they are not saving lives or reducing food waste – by saying ‘no plastic’ where we can, we can all have an impact.
We can re-use the plastic we do have, I would never advocate throwing away good strong plastic containers as a way to go plastic free, that would be counter intuitive. I would love to see better recycling and reuse, and for more people to dispose of plastics responsibly, I’ll continue to do what I can but I’m just one small cog of a very large machine.
For now, I’m going to agree with both Barry and Greg – I’ll appreciate that plastic has some very positive applications and I’m going to continue to reduce my personal use where I can.
I’ll leave it with you to form your own opinion.
Words: Paul Chapman & Barry Twigg