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Why Not All Plastics Are Bad for the Environment

Why Not All Plastics Are Bad for the Environment

This article was previously published in August, 2016 and has been updated.

Most of us are aware of the harm plastics can cause to the environment. In Australia alone, 9.7 billion single-use plastic bags are used annually and end up in landfills and waterways. Every year over 1 million marine animals are killed due to plastic debris in the ocean.

As devastating as these facts are however, plastics in themselves are not all bad. While in many cases their reputation as an environmental hazard is well deserved, plastics can be less hazardous and more beneficial with proper management, and with the use of innovative, ‘greener’ materials.

The growing availability of ‘greener’ plastic products

There have been big advances in plastics technology, and one of these is what is known as ‘bioplastic’. Bioplastics are more environmentally friendly, and are becoming increasingly popular particularly in the takeaway food sector.

Bioplastics are formed from various starches, most commonly cornstarch. They can be used for making both disposable and reusable food containers such as plastic cups with lids and other clear plastic packaging, and can lessen the load of ‘bad’ plastics in landfill.

Most bioplastics are either recyclable or compostable, designed to be broken down in designated facilities. But even those that do end up in landfill break down, although it can be a slower process without the right conditions.

Some petroleum-based plastics are also now biodegradable – meaning that they will eventually break down as well. These are usually still seen as being less ‘green’ than the bioplastics though, which is mainly down to having a higher carbon footprint due to the manufacturing process.

The invention of various bioplastics means that in an industry that creates a lot of waste, that waste can now be viewed very differently from previous generations of plastic takeaway containers and other food packaging that would never break down in landfill.

How you can use good plastics in your food business

If you are trying to be more sustainable in your plastics choices, there are a number of food container, cold drink and wholesale coffee cup products available that can be recycled or composted, or that are made from sustainable materials.

You can also look at partnering with companies that offer recycling solutions so that you can ensure that products used in your business leave the smallest possible footprint.

The way of the future

Consumers and businesses alike are much more conscious of the impact of plastics on the environment.

Government initiatives like the plastic bag bans in South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory demonstrate increased concern at a mainstream level.

Ultimately it comes down to consumer demand – where there is a need for sustainable ‘good’ plastics, industry will meet that need. All of which means that there are likely to be more options for sustainable packaging products, and more ways to easily recycle or compost them, in the future.

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