Nine out of ten people would like supermarkets to have a plastic-free aisle, according to a new poll concerned with pollution.
Populus was commissioned by the group A Plastic Planet to carry out the survey, which asked 2,000 British adults their thoughts on the use of plastic.
Plastic pollution concerns
There is growing concern that the plastic pollution in the world, particularly the oceans, is approaching unmanageable levels. 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since 1950, and 6.3 billion tons of that is now in landfill or simply discarded.
This is a huge issue, because of what happens when plastic starts to break down. Firstly, it takes a very long time to do it – potentially thousands of years before it turns back into natural elements found in the earth. Secondly, it attracts toxic chemicals in the environment, creating a toxic soup which can easily pollute other areas. Finally, as it begins to break down, it forms small yet sharp pieces which can be consumed by wild animals and then passed through the walls of their guts into their bodily tissues.
This has a big knock-on effect. Recent research has discovered that a third of seabirds in the North Sea are suffering from what was described as “widespread breeding failure”, which can largely be attributed to the plastic waste clogging up their systems.
Food packaging makes up a large proportion of the problem, with many brands coming under fire for using unnecessary amounts of plastic to encase their products.
The UN says that “the presence of microplastic in foodstuffs could potentially increase direct exposure of plastic-associated chemicals to humans and may present an attributable risk to human health”. Both plants and meats could be at risk of these microplastic contaminations.
A new alternative
In the study, 91% of those surveyed said that they were in support of plastic-free aisles in supermarkets. A further 81% said that they were concerned about the amount of plastic packaging which was being thrown away from UK households and businesses.
Co-founder of A Plastic Planet Sian Sutherland said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Great British public wants a fresh alternative to goods laden with plastic packaging. Too much of our plastic waste ends up in oceans and landfill. Consumer demand for products that generate less plastic waste is higher than ever. A plastic-free aisle would help supermarkets meet the needs of shoppers who are fed up of buying products covered with layer after layer of throwaway plastic. For years we’ve able to buy gluten-free, dairy-free, and fat-free, so why no plastic-free?”
This could present a new challenge for food product development specialist, who must come up with a way to preserve and protect food which does not include the use of plastic. One recent step we have seen has been the introduction of cardboard-based containers for mushrooms rather than plastic punnets.
“There is a growing body of evidence that plastic waste poses a global challenge, directly affecting marine life and ecosystems,” adds Professor Hilary Kennedy from Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences. “A plastic-free aisle in supermarkets would help encourage a reduction in the amount of plastic waste being dumped in our environment.”
It’s clear that the public are ready to accept a smaller amount of plastic packaging with their food. The question now, is are companies ready to step up and put in the development needed to make that a reality? Certainly reducing the amount of plastic could be a good selling point, as eco-conscious customers seek for a way to reduce their contribution to pollution in everyday life.