Are we addicted to plastic?
Plastic has a powerful hold on retail practice. Solving a problem starts with understanding how we got here. Here are reasons why we have such a bad plastic habit:
The food and plastic industry have evolved together to create packaging that is not only lightweight and cheap but makes products better. New plastics have been designed to guard against the ills of travel, humidity, light, and bacteria. The problem is that these new-fangled plastic formulas are made of blended polymers and impossible to recycle! Perfect products mean more plastic problems.
Food waste wins
Plastic can take some moral high ground when it comes to food waste: it’s great at extending food shelf life. Shrink-wrap a cucumber in polyethylene and its life is extends from 3 to 14 days*. Many products gain up to 15 days shelf life wrapped in plastic.
Plastic makes products look great: deli meat sleeves, a package that shows the ‘best side’ of a cheese, black trays that frame meats and meals, or domes that make something small look bigger. Many plastics have been designed to be glossy and gleaming to make the product they package look it’s very best.
Plastic may sometimes seem soft but it’s really pretty tough. Other substrates, like glass and aluminum, are easier to recycle– only 9% of plastics are recycled**- but glass can shatter, and aluminum can dent. Producers who want their product unbruised and unbroken love plastic’s ability to take a punch.
Hard to beat value
It’s low cost and lightweight, which makes plastic containers cheaper to ship than glass. Plastic has been a cost efficiency leader, but now costs we never counted on are beginning to mount up all over the planet.
No question: plastic is very good at what it does – and we’re hooked! If there’s any hope of breaking this habit, we must understand all the needs that plastic meets. New innovations will have to compete with all of plastic’s winning ways and woo consumers to alternatives. With a habit this pervasive – quitting cold turkey won’t work.
*Flexible Packaging Association
**Recycling Council of Ontario