Final Word from Anil Abrol

Visions of a circular economy.

I read with great interest last month’s Plastic Soup Hot Topic where Michelle Sturman pointed out that the world is awash with single-use plastic packaging. Thankfully, countries all over the world — especially coastal and island countries — are now responding to the crisis and citizens are demanding action. Bans on all things plastic — bags, packaging, straws and cups, for example — are being proposed, passed and implemented at unprecedented rates.

Responding to public pressure, some of the world’s biggest businesses and most popular brands have committed to reducing plastic pollution, with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Birds Eye and Nestlé all moving to compostable or recyclable packaging and eliminating plastics wherever possible. Large corporations, organisations and supermarket chains including KPMG, the UK’s National Health Service, Iceland and Waitrose have also made big pledges to reduce their use of plastic in a variety of ways. With just the latter two in mind, what would be the impact if we all refused to buy foods packaged in plastic?

Call for alternatives

We need alternatives to plastic, and we need them now. Mass production has accelerated so rapidly that it has created 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste. Of that, only 9% is recycled. The vast majority — 79% — is accumulating in landfills and in our oceans. If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic. And it’s a material that takes more than 400 years to degrade.

As mentioned in the Hot Topic, China recently stopped allowing the import of millions of tonnes of plastic waste from many countries due to contamination concerns. As such, nations around the world are suddenly struggling with excess amounts of waste, with nowhere to send it. 

I believe that we need to rethink plastic packaging altogether. It is single-use, made from fossil fuels, less than 10% is recycled and it lasts for centuries — there’s nothing positive to say about it. The solution, in my opinion, is to create a circular economy model where packaging is made from existing waste or recycled materials and rapidly reintegrated with nature after its job is done. 

Several years ago, I saw a need in the marketplace for compostable alternatives to single-use plastic and styrofoam packaging. I started Eco Guardian with a philosophy of ‘pure products for a clean future’. We now offer compostable or eco-friendly packaging for the foodservice, grocery, food processing, healthcare, hospitality and agriculture industry, and demand for our product continues to grow year after year.

For a material to be considered compostable, the product must break down into water, carbon dioxide and biomass, with no residual toxins. The biomass material is rich in nutrients and can be used to fertilise soil. To be officially labelled ‘compostable’, third-party independent laboratory testing is done and, if a material passes, an official certification is issued.

Plenty of options

Compostable packaging can be made from materials like sugarcane and wheat stalk leftovers, as well as bamboo which is a fast-growing annual grass. These are all materials that were once considered manufacturing by-products and were discarded or burned — now they are cleaned, washed, pulped and compressed for use in the production of compostable packaging. 

Unlike trees that can take decades of growth before harvest, these are annual crops, considered rapidly renewable, sustainable and eco-friendly. Using specialised moulds, these fibres can be made into almost any shape, are certified-compostable, chemical-free and food-safe.

Where the unique features of plastic packaging are required, there is also a compostable plastic-like material made from plants, not oil. Polylactic acid (PLA) is different from traditional fossil fuel-based plastics in that it is derived from renewable resources like corn starch or sugarcane. 

I strongly feel that we can all make the move to a sustainable, resource-efficient economy by a) re-inventing how we design, produce and sell products; b) re-thinking how we use and consume products; and c) re-defining what is possible through our use of compostable alternatives, new materials and technologies, and improved recycling and re-purposing processes.

I sincerely hope that articles like this Hot Topic — and maybe my thoughts here too — will get people to investigate alternatives to plastics. After all, no one wants plastic in their soup.

For more information on Canada-based Eco Guardian, visit www.ecoguardian.com.

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