Tag Archives: single use plastic

Summer 2019 Update

 

 

 

 

Hope you are OK, and enjoying the summer it’s been a while!

The trouble with being a single-person operation is that communications can be a bit me, me, me, which is why I’ve held off sending this out for a bit, but as anyone who is self-employed will tell you no-one else is going to blow your trumpet for you so….

I spent last summer researching and writing a report for Smithers Pira – The Future Lifecycles of Packaging Recycling to 2023 – it is now available to purchase online here – http://bit.ly/31Mw9zy or you may already have access to it if your company is a member of Smithers Pira.

My client Garçon Wines has been winning awards left right and centre for their flat eco-wine bottle, but the ones that mean the most to me were the UK Packaging awards for Innovation of the Year and the Consumer Convenience award – you can check out their website here – http://bit.ly/2ZaVYqY

Along with my colleague Steve Jackson, I spent the last few weeks of 2018 working some maternity cover at Iceland Foods, working at their head office in Deeside.  I enjoyed every single minute of it – they are a great team of people.

My big news is that for the last 6 months or so I’ve been working 4 days a week at the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield on the UKRI funded project Plastics:Redefining Single Use http://bit.ly/30aM4Y0 They’ve now taken me on as staff for the next year, leading one of the sub-projects, a proof of concept study on Reusable Packaging.  I’m absolutely thrilled, and so proud to be working on solving the plastics problem at my old (and new!) university.  I’ve already given oral evidence to the EFRA committee at the Houses of Parliament, am working with some very high-profile stake holders, and am enjoying the interdisciplinary nature of the project, working with not only Polymer Scientists, but Sociologists, Psychologists and Environmental Scientists.

I work a 4 day week, so I am still available for smaller projects, straight consultancy work and coaching smaller businesses through the packaging development process. Please get in touch, and if I can’t help directly I’ll put you in contact with someone who can.

If you live in or regularly visit the North of England, and are not already signed up, please consider joining the North of England Packaging Society.  It is free to join (follow this link – http://bit.ly/2VQaug19) and we plan factory visits and networking socials in Leeds and Sheffield (and possibly beyond if there is demand).  The next email will come out in a couple of days so if you sign up now you will receive it.

See you at Packaging Innovations at Olympia on 11th and 12th Sept if you are going.

Cheers,

Sarah


Sarah Greenwood MSc(Eng) FIMMM APkgPrf
Packaging and Plastics Consultant
07826 791 045

Biodegradable Plastic Packaging – 5 things you need to know

If you use plastic packaging, carriers or cutlery to give to your customers it is tempting to use biodegradable versions.  These can be a good idea, but only in the right circumstances. Read on to find out why;

1. Biodegradable plastics don’t necessarily break down in the sea, on land or in landfill. There are 2 main kinds of biodegradable plastics for packaging – compostable and oxo-degradable.  Compostables have to be processed in specific conditions for them to break down, and there is currently doubt over the effectiveness of oxo-degradables.

 

2. Compostable plastics – are usually made from natural sources – like corn starch or cellulose from wood. They are often used for carrier bags, disposable cutlery and bags for food waste where councils collect it.  Most of these will only break down in an industrial composter, or an anaerobic digester, which operates at temperatures of around 60°C.   These can be identified with the symbol above with the code EN13432.  More details available here .   Unless you / your customers have access to an industrial composting waste stream, these materials could be doing more harm than good – at best they will either be incinerated or stay intact in landfill.  At worst they could decompose in landfill releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, or end up contaminating the plastics recycling stream.  Green-field music festivals are a good example of where compostable items can work as they have complete control over their waste management.  (Vegware have this sorted)

 

Home compostability logo

3. Home Compostable plastics – are the same as the industrially compostable plastics above, but will compost at lower temperatures, so in theory you can put them in your compost heap. I’d love to hear from anyone that does this – my garden is too small for a compost heap!

4. Compostable plastics decompose to water, carbon dioxide or methane and a very small amount of biomass . Very little of the original material is left behind as compost.  Composting of plastics is really just a way to make them disappear, a slow version of incineration!  (although the methane can be captured from anaerobic digestion and used as fuel)

 

Oxo-biodegradable plastic bag on a beach in 2011.

5. Oxo-degradable plastics (or oxo-biodegradable plastics) – are standard oil-based plastics, like Polythene, which have an additive included.  The additive makes the plastic fragment into smaller pieces over time.  In theory, these smaller fragments can then be digested by micro-organisms.  However, in November 2017, 150 organisations including Greenpeace and WWF endorsed a statement from Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy that recommends putting a hold on using this kind of plastic until it has been proven that these particles do not accumulate in ecosystems. You can read the report here .  Naturally the Oxo-biodegradable plastics association refute this.  My experience is that they take a long time to break up in the environment – the photo above shows a carrier bag I found on a beach in March 2011 – it had been around long enough for the ink to fade, but not for the bag to break up (the retailer in question no longer uses this technology).  (By the way if you have stored something in one of these bags over the last few years check up on it – they make a real mess when they start to flake!)

The points discussed above don’t mean we should stop looking into biodegradable plastics, far from it, but the method of disposal needs to be considered before making claims about the benefit to the environment.  Ideally in a few years there will be no public demand for biodegradable packaging as all of it will be captured and reprocessed before entering the environment as part of a circular economy!

Do you use biodegradable packaging? Do you compost at home?  Do you think all plastic packaging should be biodegradable? Let me know your experiences in the comments section below.

To see how I can help your business grow, check out the case studies and services provided pages on my website. For more information, contact me here, call me on 07826 791 045 or subscribe to my monthly newsletter

Fresh cucumbers

Do cucumbers really need to be shrink-wrapped?

Retailers are under enormous pressure to eliminate plastic packaging altogether.  Do cucumbers really need to be shrink-wrapped with plastic?  Read on to find out…

OK, so most people know that if you keep a cucumber wrapped it will stay fresher for longer.  If you are curious like me about by how much, here is an easy experiment you can do at home to see what difference the plastic shrink-wrap makes;

 

Experiment

Get hold of 2 cucumbers of similar size and the same best before date.  Weigh them both using kitchen scales and remove the shrink-wrap from one and weigh the packaging.  Put both cucumbers in the fridge and continue weigh every day (more often if you like) until the best-before date.  On the best before date, weigh the cucumbers one final time, take a slice from each and taste.  (For one way to use up your cucumbers at the end of the experiment, try this recipe for cucumber soup from Delia)

Cucumber being weighed

Cucumber being weighed

Here are my results, weight of the cucumber plotted vs time;

Weights of wrapped and unwrapped cucumbers vs. time in home fridge at 4°C

Weights of wrapped and unwrapped cucumbers vs. time in home fridge at 4°C

The wrapped cucumber lost just 1g during the testing period, the unwrapped 12g – 3.5% of its total weight on the day of purchase (day 0) on the graph above. The unwrapped cucumber was still fresh but less crunchy than the wrapped cucumber.

 

What does this mean?

Shrink-wrap isn’t just a barrier to moisture-lossAfter harvest all fresh produce continues to respire (breath) – its carbohydrate reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere and releases carbon dioxide and water (see here for more info).  Shrink-wrapping reduces the amount of oxygen available so the cucumber’s respiration rate slows down, less water is lost and it stays fresh for longer.  (Note a number of factors also affect the respiration rate – the variety, ripeness of the cucumber when picked, wax coatings and storage conditions). 

These particular cucumbers came from Greece, so were picked, wrapped and labelled in Greece, loaded onto a truck, travelled 2000 miles including a trip over the sea to a UK distribution centre and then from the UK DC to the local stores.  This can’t take any less than 2 days.  Even with temperature controlled transport the temperature the cucumbers are kept at will vary. In many cases (as with these) they are sold and stored at room temperature, so respiration and water-loss will be greater during the time they are on sale.   The shrink also physically protects the fruits from damage during transit.

OK, so the home-experiment above was just a bit of fun (yes I know, I need to get out more). However, the Co‑op, regarded as one of the greener supermarket retailers for packaging, performed a rigorous trial across the whole supply chain in 2012.  Their trials showed that the shrink-wrap prevented waste by two-thirds (See this article from Sky News). Extensive scientific research has also been performed – see this report from the Journal of Food Science and Technology.

 

So what next?

Just 2g of plastic means that a cucumber can be as fresh on its best before date as on the day it was purchased, not to mention the protection it provides during a 2000 mile journey to our fridges.  This doesn’t mean the industry should not act in order to reduce plastic usage, but until they find a workable solution, the best thing we as consumers can do is to keep the pressure on retailers to reduce plastic packaging where they can.  What about the wrappers on soap bar and tinned tuna multi-packs – are they really necessary?

If you are a brand owner and want help in removing plastic packaging from your products contact me for advice or call +44 (0) 7826 791 045

Subscribe to my newsletter to find out more about packaging in general.

In the meantime I’m off to eat some cucumber soup!

Chilled cucumber soup in a teacup