With COVID-19 still at the forefront of everyone’s mind perhaps plastic could offer some support in protecting products and food.

Over recent years, there has been a major pushback against the use of plastic packaging. This has been largely based on environmental concerns. While the foundation of these concerns were valid. It overlooked the fact that the appropriate use of plastic is, as a minimum, environmentally neutral and goes a long way towards improving safety. The current pandemic, however, is leading to a reevaluation of plastic. Here is what you need to know.

Plastic protects and preserves

The basic idea behind plastic packaging is that it creates a secure (for which read hygienic) environment. A manufacturer or food producer makes sure that their products are clean and then wraps them in plastic so that they stay that way. Nothing can get in from the outside.

As a bonus, nothing gets out from the inside. So long as the plastic packaging stays intact, products are kept together and leakage is avoided. This goes a long way to avoiding waste.

The importance of robust plastic packaging increases in direct proportion to the distance over which a product needs to be transported. While there is a lot to be said for the “shop local” movement, the fact is that it is not always practical.

For example, people may be happy to eat local, seasonal produce and go without imported foods such as spices. They are, however, less likely to be happy to go without essential medicines. These often need to be produced in a central location and then transported to distribution points which can be a very long distance away.

The issues with plastic packaging

Quite bluntly, the concerns raised about plastic packaging really boil down to human behaviour rather than the use of plastic itself. What should happen is that single-use plastic should be collected and recycled. What is actually happening is that difficulties with collecting and recycling plastic are leading to large quantities of plastic being discarded. Some of this is ending up in highly inappropriate places, notably oceans.

Furthermore, there has long been a global issue with people buying excess quantities of food. This food ends up being discarded along with its packaging, thus making the problem worse.

Finding a sustainable solution

There are two key points which need to be addressed for plastic packaging to be used effectively and sustainably.

Firstly, there needs to be more effort made to reduce the overall quantity of food wastage. This probably needs to be led by governments, major retailers (especially supermarkets), industry bodies and consumer groups. In particular, retailers will need to pay attention to the special offers they run to avoid encouraging people to buy excess food.

Secondly, there needs to be a major push to recycle all single-use plastics. For this to happen there must be a straightforward way for consumers to return all their used plastics. Right now, the different plastic-recycling schemes can be extremely difficult for consumers to understand, let alone implement. Hopefully, the post-COVID19 environment will give governments and local authorities a chance to review this situation and improve on it substantially.

Ansini Limited are specialists in vacuum forming and thermoplastic moulding. Their social responsibility to the environment ensures their procedures and products cut waste and reduce the use of energy.