Understandably there are a myriad of websites and sources of information about plastics and the environment. The David Attenborough effect has raised awareness of the impact of not managing plastic waste and the harm it does to our planet. Governments around the world are taking action to varying degrees and here in the UK there are pledges and targets to reduce emissions, remove unnecessary plastics altogther and maximise recycling to deliver to the circular economy. So where does bread fit in and what other issues do we need to consider?
A massive one is food waste. Arguably a bigger problem than plastics! Food waste occurs at either ends of consumption Food waste includes wasted resources in the growing of food stuff, emissions from this process, inefficient use of resources such as fuel water and transport and product that simply doesn’t make the grade.
In bread production for example, over 80% of the carbon footprint of the product is in the agriculture phase, before it even gets to the bakeries. Only 2% of it’s carbon footprint is in the packaging and delivery of bread. After the production process once the food is delivered into the hands of we consumers, there is the second element to food waste where food is either not eaten because we buy more than we need, passes the ‘consume by’ date or is wasted from our plates. All this contributes to landfill which generates methane gas. So as oyu can see between food waste and plastics recycling we have a fine balance to achieve.
At a time when a ‘climate emergency’ has been declared,Source: The British Plastics Federation who have writtern a comprehensive paper on this issue
it is important that people understand that ‘plastic free’ does not necessarily mean ‘better for the environment’.
For example, researchers found that switching to alternative materials could quadruple what they dubbed ‘the environmental cost.’
Plastic will – and should – continue to play a vital role in all our lives going forward.
So what about the alternatives to polythene for packaging food products such as bread. Often suggested are paper and compostable bags. These both ‘feel and sound’ greener to us consumers but the reality is a little different. Paper bags create a far higher carbon footprint in their production requiring forests to be cut down and resulting in far higher toxins compared with making plastic bags. On top of that they weigh more which means that there are increases in carbon footprint for transportation!
Compostable bags are another option that sound really green but consider this. Compostable materials are less good at keeping bread fresh for longer because they are permeable. The word compostable sounds like you can put them in your garden compost bin, assuming you even have one, and they will break down. This is far from the truth as most compostable bags are compostable in an industrial compostor only! Not something we have at the bottom of our garden. In addition if you get compostable plastic mixed in with the more popular non-compostable plastic such as polythene (PE, LDPE PE-LD) which is readily recycled and re-used, this could significantly compromise the recycled and re-used product. Polythene from the food industry is often recycled to produce parts for construction and automotive industries. Imagine your drain pipe springing a leak in say 5 years because there is compostable degradable plastic in there. In reality this is less likely to happen as polythene contaminated with compostable materials is rejected for recycling and re-use for this very reason. It’s a double disaster!
It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.Source: Northern Ireland Assembly Paper