The harmful effects of plastic waste on the planet’s landfills and ocean ecosystems have been well documented. While there has been an increase in the search for environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic, a report by a committee of MPs in the UK highlights potential problems with these types of products. The report’s findings could further complicate the search for effective strategies to combat the proliferation of plastic waste generated by the current single-use economy.
One of the problems with plastic alternatives highlighted in the report is confusion about the best way to dispose of them. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee highlighted the fact that some of the new biodegradable plastic alternatives must be sent to industrial composting facilities to decompose as intended. Because the information about how to properly discard these types of plastic alternatives is not well known, it has led some to attempt to compost them at home or just discard them.
The report emphasizes that simply changing the material used to make single-use products will not be enough to reduce the amount of waste being generated and finding its way into the ocean. A quote from Juliet Phillips, an official with the Environmental Investigation Agency states the problem succinctly: “If a biodegradable cup gets into the sea, it could pose just as much of a problem to marine life as a conventional plastic cup.”
Critics also point out that there is little evidence to support the belief that using plastic alternatives is any better for the environment than plastic, noting that the amount of waste being disposed of, regardless of what it is made of, is also a huge part of the problem. There is also agreement among environmental experts that the government should set clearer standards for the definition of terms like biodegradable and compostable.
The committee report concluded that less emphasis needs to be placed on creating alternatives to plastic and more emphasis needs to be placed on reducing the use of single-use plastic packaging. The report also recommended that the British government require more companies to report their plastic packaging footprint so there would be a clearer picture of the current production level and how it can be reduced.