Switching away from plastic use to alternative forms of packaging could actually harm the environment.
That’s the suggestion from a new report published by Green Alliance, which interviewed representatives from five of the UK’s major supermarkets as well as representatives from major consumer goods and beverage companies.
Despite acknowledging that plastic pollution is “one of the biggest environmental problems of our age”, it notes solving this problem without increasing other environmental burdens requires an approach from businesses, government and wider society that tackles wider concerns around unsustainable resource use.
It notes while many companies, particularly in the grocery sector, are now under significant pressure to stop using plastic packaging, many brands have reported decisions to switch away from plastic are often made without considering the environmental impact of the alternative materials chosen or whether the new packaging can actually be recycled.
The report claims switching from single-use plastic bags to single-use paper bags is “a worrying trend”, as paper bags can potentially have “much higher carbon impacts” and can require four times as much energy to manufacture as plastic bags.
It suggests when factors such as ozone depletion, toxicity and pollution are taken into account, a paper bag would need to be reused 43 times to have a lower impact than the average plastic bag.