Even More Packaging News

Check out our packaging articles for a more in-depth look at the news from each packaging manufacturing sector.

Asda trials new 'sustainability store'

Refill area in Asda's new sustainability store

Supermarket giant Asda has taken a step towards a greener future with the opening of a new sustainability trial store that aims to save one million pieces of plastic per year.

The new store in Middleton, Leeds, is designed to help shoppers reduce, reuse and recycle with ease, with a promise from Asda that customers will not pay more for greener options.

The initiative sees the UK's third biggest supermarket partner with popular household brands to allow customers to refill containers with some of the nation's favourite products, whilst over 50 lines of fresh produce will now be sold without any wrapping.

Asda - who unveiled a new plastics reduction strategy at the launch - estimates the numerous initiatives being trialled in the store will save one million pieces of plastic per year.

Those elements of the trial that appeal most to customers could be rolled out to more locations as early as next year, provided they can be developed to scale.

Features of the new trial store include:

  • Refill stations with more than 30 household staples sold in refillable format
  • Featured brands include Kellogg’s cereals, PG Tips tea bags, Lavazza coffee, Persil laundry detergent, Radox shower gel and Asda’s own brand rice and pasta
  • 53 lines of fresh produce (including 29 new lines) sold in loose and unwrapped format
  • Recycling facilities catering for difficult-to-recycle items, such as crisp and biscuit packets, plastic toys, cosmetic containers and toothpaste tubes
  • Asda’s first reverse vending machine for cans, plastic and glass drinks bottles

Asda CEO and president Roger Burnley said the move marked an "important milestone" as the company tackles plastic pollution and "help customers to reduce, re-use and recycle".

"We have always known that we couldn’t go on this journey alone, so it is fantastic to work in tandem with more than 20 of our partners and suppliers, who have answered the call to test innovative sustainable solutions with us," said Burnley.

"This is an issue that matters greatly to our customers. We want to give them the opportunity to live more sustainably by offering them great product choices and value, underpinned by a promise that they won’t pay more for greener options at Asda."

Nina Schrank, lead plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK, welcomed the move.

"By offering innovative refill stations, loose fruit and vegetables and plenty of sustainably sourced household goods, Asda have bought what used to be a niche shopping experience into the mainstream, all under one roof," she said.

"We hope that this store is the first of many; we need to see so much more of this from across the supermarket sector."

Image courtesy of Asda.

Aldi scraps single-use plastic bags for fruit and veg

Aldi reusable bag

Supermarket giant Aldi has announced plans to scrap single-use bags for loose fruit and veg from all of its stores by the end of the year.

Britain's fifth largest supermarket - which runs almost 900 stores across the UK - says the move will save more than 100 tonnes of plastic a year.

Shoppers will instead be encouraged to bring their own containers to the store, or spend 25p on a new reusable drawstring bag, which is made from recycled bottles.

The German-owned company is one of the first UK supermarkets to commit to a ban on single-use produce bags. The move follows a successful trial in 100 of its stores across the Midlands earlier this year.

"Aldi is committed to reducing plastic waste, and evolving our approach to the sale and distribution of our bags is a critical part of that," said Chris McKenry, plastics and packaging director at Aldi UK & Ireland.

"We've already made good headway with removing and replacing avoidable plastics across our product range, but now it is time to step things up when it comes to bags and providing our customers with sustainable alternatives."

In July, Aldi announced an ambitious new commitment to halve the volume of plastic packaging it uses - equating to 74,000 tonnes - by 2025.

The supermarket has been carbon neutral since January 2019 and rolled out compostable carrier bags to all its UK stores in January 2020, after they proved more popular than paper bags in a customer trial.

The news comes as leading UK manufacturer Polybags launched a new range of compostable carrier bags to further extend its market-leading range of eco-friendly packaging.

The company says the new-look classic carrier bag - which can be disposed of in industrial or home composting and complies with standard EN13432 - offers a dual-purpose, serving as a shopping bag and then as a food waste bag.

Aldi claims to be on track to having all own-label products as recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022, with branded products sold by the retailer to follow suit by 2025.

Image courtesy of Aldi.

Comic Relief reveals 100% plastic-free red nose

Comic Relief 2021 red noses

Comic Relief has revealed its first ever 100% plastic-free red nose.

The plant-based red nose is made from bagasse - a natural by-product of sugar cane - chosen for its widely-celebrated sustainable qualities.

The new nose will be available to buy from January, ahead of Red Nose Day 2021, which takes place on 19 March.

Inspired by messages from children to produce a plastic-free version of the famous nose, Comic Relief and long-standing partner Sainsbury's carried out extensive research and testing into suitable plastic-free alternative materials.

The new nose has taken over 18 months to develop and will be available in 10 different characters to represent the great outdoors, including a squirrel, fox and badger.

"It is amazing what you can create from a sugar cane product," said Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis.

"Our new nose marks a strong step on our sustainability journey. We are committed to designing a more sustainable nose every year, while continuing to make them attractive and fun, and recognise we still have a lot of work to do in creating the perfect model.

"But this journey is an exciting one and we thank all the children and supporters who let us know they wanted a plastic free-option. Children are at the heart of our Red Nose Day campaign and their opinions are really important to us."

The red nose first launched in 1988 when Curtis and fellow Comic Relief founder, Sir Lenny Henry, wanted to create a symbol to represent the charity and its first event.

Over three decades later, the red nose has raised over £70 million for good causes, helping to change countless lives in the UK and all over the world.

The charity says it is committed to developing the material used to make its red nose every year, with a goal to create a version that is compostable at home in the near future.

Tony Bosworth, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Everyone knows how extensive plastic pollution is and what it does to wildlife so it's good that the famous Comic Relief nose will be plastic free.

"We need alternative and better solutions to avoid single-use plastic everywhere and this should be led by industry and government. We look forward to Comic Relief making sure that all of its materials are environmentally friendly."

Find out more at comicrelief.com/nose. Image courtesy of Comic Relief.

Carrier bag charge to double to 10p in England

Full carrier bag on the floor

Small shops no longer exempt from charge, as campaigners say 'bags for life' must be next

The charge for carrier bags in supermarkets will double to 10p in England from April 2021, whilst the exemption for smaller retailers will also be withdrawn, the Government has announced.

Currently, only retailers with more than 250 employees have to pay the 5p levy on all carrier bags sold - a charge introduced in 2015 in an attempt to reduce plastic pollution.

Since then, Defra points to a 95% reduction in carrier bag sales in England's major supermarkets as evidence of a successful policy.

However, this appears to conveniently ignore a huge increase in the use of 'bags for life' in UK supermarkets, as their overall use of plastic increased last year.

Announcing the new carrier bag charge, environment secretary George Eustice said: "We have all seen the devastating impact plastic bags have on the oceans and on precious marine wildlife, which is why we are taking bold and ambitious action to tackle this issue head on.

"The UK is already a world-leader in this global effort, and our carrier bag charge has been hugely successful in taking billions of harmful plastic bags out of circulation. But we want to go further by extending this to all retailers so we can continue to cut unnecessary waste and build back greener."

Environmental campaigners welcomed the move, but urged the Government to do more about the increased use of stronger bags for life, with evidence suggesting that many consumers are treating these sturdy, reusable bags in the same way as so-called 'single use' carrier bags.

Last year, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace reported a 25% increase in sales of bags for life compared to 2018, with a staggering 1.5 billion sold across the UK - the equivalent of 54 per household.

The reusability of bags for life may appeal to consumers seeking to choose the most eco-friendly shopping bag, but a much higher carbon footprint means they must be used at least four times to make them more eco-friendly than a traditional carrier bag used just once.

"By raising the price of plastic bags again, the government is taking a small step in the right direction, but by now they should be taking great strides," Sam Chetan-Welsh, a political campaigner at Greenpeace, told The Guardian.

"Reinstating the previous price of carrier bags but not taking action on bags for life is only looking at one part of the problem."

The debate over the most eco-friendly solution for shoppers continues, with some supermarket chains trialling alternative solutions.

Morrison's recently announced plans to ditch their bags for life, replacing them with sturdy paper alternatives in a trial across eight of its stores.

If the trial proves a success, Morrison's plan to provide only paper bags across all 494 of its stores, which it claims that it would save 90 million plastic bags being used each year - the equivalent of more than 3.5 thousand tonnes of plastic annually.

But whilst paper bags pose less of a litter problem than plastic bags and are widely recyclable, to focus on the end of the bag's life-cycle does not tell the full story.

A new online tool from leading UK manufacturer Polybags allows customers to compare different bags on a series of eco-factors across their entire life-cycles - and in a head-to-head of plastic bags versus paper bags, the former comes out on top as the most eco-friendly product overall, largely due to its lower carbon footprint and greater reusability.

Outside of England, all UK retailers - including smaller retailers - already charge a minimum of 5p for plastic bags.

A carrier bag levy was first introduced in Wales in 2011. Northern Ireland and Scotland followed suit in 2013 and 2014 respectively, before England introduced its own plastic bag charge in October 2015.

Bacteria offers potential plastic manufacturing breakthrough

Harmful fossil fuels are traditionally used in plastic manufacturing

Discovery could 'open the door' for making plastic without fossil fuels

Scientists in the United States have made a discovery that could potentially lead to new ways to produce plastics without the use of fossil fuels.

The researchers have found a previously unknown way that some bacteria produce the chemical ethylene - a fundamental part of the plastic-making process.

Ethylene traditionally derives from fossil fuels and is widely used in the manufacturing of nearly all plastics.

The study, published in the journal Science, showed that ethylene gas was created by the bacteria as a by-product of metabolising sulfur - which they need to survive - using a process that could make it very valuable in manufacturing.

"We may have cracked a major technological barrier to producing a large amount of ethylene gas that could replace fossil fuel sources in making plastics," said Justin North, a research scientist in microbiology at The Ohio State University and the study's lead author.

"There’s still a lot of work to do to develop these strains of bacteria to produce industrially significant quantities of ethylene gas. But this opens the door."

Currently, ethylene is created using oil or natural gas. Bacteria had previously been discovered that can also create ethylene, but the need for oxygen in that process provided a barrier to its production.

"Oxygen plus ethylene is explosive," said Robert Tabita, professor of microbiology at Ohio State and senior author of the study - a collaboration with Colorado State University and two national laboratories.

"That is a major hurdle for using it in manufacturing, but the bacterial system we discovered to produce ethylene works without oxygen and that gives us a significant technological advantage."

You can read a more detailed report on the research findings on the Ohio State University website.

Leading packaging manufacturer launches eco-comparison tool

Polybags' eco-comparison tool

Polybags tool provides fun way to compare green credentials of packaging options

How eco-friendly is the packaging that you buy?

Businesses and consumers alike have never been more switched on to the ecological impact of the packaging they use but, in what is a very complex area with a myriad of options, it's not always clear what the most eco-friendly choice is.

So it is refreshing to see one leading UK manufacturer take a new and engaging approach to help clear things up, as Polybags launches a brand new eco-comparison tool to help customers choose the right kind of packaging for them.

Compostable, bio-additive, paper and recycled polythene bags all feature, alongside regular polythene bags, bags for life and cotton bags, as well as glass and metal packaging.

Customers choose two products to compare head-to-head across a series of eco-factors over their entire life cycle - from their carbon footprint in production to their recyclability - with the results presented in an eye-catching and informative way.

The snazzy animated tool scrolls through the various eco-factors, with each product awarded either a smiley, straight or sad face, depending on their eco-credentials for that factor, whilst a fun Batman-style zap declares the winner for each.

It's a fun and interesting way of breaking down a complex argument and the results - explained in detail for those interested - will no doubt surprise some customers and challenge a few misconceptions.

For example, a paper bag may be recyclable, but how many people know that its higher carbon footprint means it must be used at least three times to make it more eco-friendly than a traditional carrier bag used just once?

Or that an 'eco-friendly' cotton bag needs to be used a staggering 320 times to have a lower global warming potential than a traditional carrier bag reused just once?

Weighing one eco-factor against another is invariably difficult - e.g. how important is a product's carbon footprint compared to its compostability or its litter impact? - and the answer will often come down to personal choice.

Polybags have used a simplistic approach to tackle a very complex argument and so the results should be viewed with a degree of caution.

But with eco-friendly choices becoming increasingly important in all aspects of our everyday life, this new eco-comparison tool provides a useful, fun and engaging way to get people thinking about the true environmental impact of the packaging we use on a day-to-day basis.

Main image screenshot courtesy of Polybags.co.uk.

Evian unveils label-free bottle made from 100% recycled plastic

Evian's new recycled bottle

Global mineral water brand Evian has unveiled a new label-free bottle that is made from 100% recycled plastic and is fully recyclable.

The clear bottle, which features an engraved brand name and logo, is made from 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET).

Evian's traditional blue cap is replaced by a new pink cap, which is not made from rPET, but is fully recyclable.

The new 400ml bottles will only be available in selected hotels, restaurants and hospitality firms in France from early July, with plans to extend this to other countries by September.

The French company hopes the new bottle marks a key milestone in its journey to becoming a 'fully circular' brand by 2025, when it plans to make all of its bottles - excluding caps - from 100% rPET.

Shweta Harit, Evian's global brand vice president, said the label-free, 100% recycled bottle was "tangible proof of our commitment to becoming a fully circular brand by 2025".

"It is now more important than ever for us to bring consumers our natural mineral water in a more sustainable way, as we owe everything to nature," she added.

Emmanuelle Giraudon, engineer in research and innovation at Danone, the company which owns the Evian brand, said the bottle's launch marked an exciting development.

"This new innovation is so exciting as it is not just any bottle; it is recyclable, made from 100% recycled plastic, and label-free, and has been specifically designed to minimize environmental impact," said Giraudon.

"Thanks to the engraving, we can preserve the natural beauty of the bottle and be closer to the water’s purity. We wanted to keep the 'Evian touch' when designing the bottle, and we created a new pink cap especially for it.

"Our revolution makes old plastic the ultimate new innovation."

Image courtesy of Evian.

Will face mask rules for public transport in England add pressure to PPE supply chains?

Woman in face mask

The packaging industry is traditionally associated with the protective packaging of products and items, not so much the packaging of people.

With the advent of coronavirus, many packaging companies - particularly those who specialise in plastic packaging - have switched their focus to what is normally a smaller part of their market: the manufacture of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Plastic-based PPE such as polythene aprons, perspex face guards and face masks made from woven and non-woven polypropylene - effectively packaging to protect people - has suddenly found itself in scarce supply over recent months.

The industry adapted relatively quickly with UK shortages addressed in the short-term by international packaging companies, such as Selegna Tekstil in Turkey - although not without well-publicised problems.

UK companies were also quick to increase production and invest in additional machinery to fill the gaps but now, as regulations on mandatory face coverings increase, there are fresh concerns over new pressure on face mask supplies.

Face coverings have been made compulsory on public transport and in hospitals in England from 15 June, whilst the British Medical Association - the doctors' union - has urged the government to make the coverings mandatory whenever social distancing is not possible, not just on public transport.

Emerging studies [1] have also suggested that face masks can considerably reduce the spread of Covid-19, so pressure may yet increase further on the government to mandate the use of face coverings on a wider scale.

With the government advising the public to use regular face coverings - which can be homemade - rather than medical-grade 'surgical' face masks, does that mean there is a shortage of face masks?

Jon Lomax of Polybags Ltd, leading UK manufacturers of packaging including PPE products, said: "We have an excellent supply of three-ply surgical face masks and respirators and are even offering a discount at the moment. The supply chain is adapting to the added need for certain PPE products and surgical face masks, in particular, are now much more readily available to consumers."

Other companies like Kite Packaging, Packaging2Buy and Amazon are also stocking face masks, although not all of these companies are displaying full certification for the masks on their websites. Amazon too has many market-place sellers, although customer reviews suggest delivery times of up to a month as delivery is often fulfilled directly from the sellers in China.

High street brands such as Boots have also entered the market and many new suppliers have sprung up to supply novelty and designer face coverings - although these generally do not offer the same properties of 95-98% bacterial and small particle filtration offered by certified face masks and respirators.

So what exactly are the new rules for face coverings on public transport?

In England the use of face coverings will only apply to passengers actually on public transport and not those who are waiting to board. However, the rail industry has said they will ask people to cover their face as they enter a station. Uber taxis have also made it mandatory for all passengers and drivers to wear face coverings.

At the time of writing, face coverings are not mandatory in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, although each of the devolved governments recommend that members of the public wear face coverings on public transport and in other situations where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

Footnotes:

[1] Timo Mitze, Reinhold Kosfeld, Johannes Rode, Klaus Wälde (2020), 'Face Masks Considerably Reduce COVID-19 Cases in Germany: A Synthetic Control Method Approach', Institute of Labor Economics (IZA DP No. 13319)

Andrex packaging to use 30% recycled plastic

Andrex Classic Clean

Andrex has announced that its plastic packaging is to feature 30% recycled content, in a bid to reduce its environmental footprint.

The leading toilet tissue brand, famous for its puppy adverts, also aims to reach at least 50% recycled content in its packaging by 2023.

Andrex's new packaging features 30% recycled plastic content, made from post-consumer resin. It will be used on their Classic Clean packs, which are expected to be available at all major retailers this month.

The company says that the switch will remove 481 tonnes of virgin plastic material over the next 12 months - equivalent to more than 48 million 500ml plastic bottles.

"At Andrex, we are committed to improving the sustainability of our products and packaging," said Ori Ben Shai, vice president and managing director of Kimberly-Clark UK, which owns Andrex.

"The launch of the new 30% recycled plastic packaging forms part of our wider ambition to leave a greener 'pawprint' on the planet.

"Beyond this, we aim to have at least 50% recycled plastic content in our packaging by 2023, and we will continue to look for more sustainable alternatives that reduce our environmental footprint, without compromising on the quality of our products that our customers know and love."

Andrex's move comes as the UK moves towards a minimum percentage of recycled content in plastic packaging.

From April 2022, all plastic packaging produced in or imported into the UK containing less than 30% recycled plastic will be subject to a new plastic packaging tax.

The government plans to publish draft legislation for consultation in 2020, setting out the key features of the tax, which includes a proposed tax rate of £200 per tonne.

One UK packaging company that is already ahead of the game is Polybags Ltd, which has already begun to convert some stock lines to have a minimum of 30% recycled content, whilst updating its online catalogue to highlight products containing recycled content.

The Greenford company has led the way in the UK eco-packaging market in recent years, manufacturing a range of products made entirely from recycled materials, including mailing bags, clear packing bags and waste sacks.

Now, as part of their drive to promote eco-packaging, the company's online catalogue will also alert customers when the products they are viewing contain a minimum of 30%, 50%, 60% or 100% recycled content.

Polybags customers can also expect to see other eco-friendly packaging features highlighted, including packaging made from compostable, biodegradable, renewable or recyclable materials.

Image courtesy of Kimberly-Clark UK.

Mutant enzyme gives hope of plastic recycling breakthrough

PET plastic bottles

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that is able to break down plastic bottles for recycling in a matter of hours.

The new enzyme reduces polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - the plastic used to make most plastic drinks bottles - into chemical building blocks that can then be used to create high-quality new recycled bottles.

Independent experts have hailed the breakthrough, revealed in the scientific journal Nature, as a major advance for the recycling industry.

The novel enzyme, one of 100,000 micro-organisms screened by French company Carbios and their academic partner, the Toulouse Biotechnology Institute, was originally found in a compost heap of leaves.

"It had been completely forgotten, but it turned out to be the best," said Professor Alain Marty, Carbios' chief scientific officer and co-author of the report.

The team of researchers analysed the enzyme and introduced mutations to improve its ability to break down PET.

Using the optimised enzyme, the scientists were able to break down a tonne of waste plastic bottles, achieving a minimum 90% degradation within 10 hours, before using the material to create new food-grade plastic bottles.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest ecological crises facing humankind today. An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste is dumped annually into the world's oceans.

PET is one of the world's most common plastics. It is used to manufacture bottles, polyester clothing fibres, food containers and other thermoformed packaging. However, current technology means recycled plastic bottles can usually only produce plastic of a lower quality.

Carbios is aiming to use the new enzyme for industrial-scale recycling within five years, partnering with Pepsi and L’Oréal to accelerate development.

Dr Saleh Jabarin, a professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio, USA, and a member of Carbios' scientific committee, said: "It's a real breakthrough in the recycling and manufacturing of PET. Thanks to the innovative technology developed by Carbios, the PET industry will become truly circular, which is the goal for all players in this industry, especially brand-owners, PET producers and our civilisation as a whole."

Volunteers and manufacturers join fight to tackle PPE shortage

Protective face masks

The fight to tackle the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available to NHS staff and care home workers has been boosted by the efforts of volunteers and manufacturers across the UK.

The government has faced criticism for its failure to arm front-line workers with suitable PPE to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic, with the BBC's Panorama programme exposing an absence of stockpiled protective gowns and visors when the virus reached UK shores.

Whilst the government tries to boost its stockpile amidst a global shortage of equipment, some UK manufacturers have helped out by diversifying their output to support front line staff.

Northern Irish sports manufacturer O'Neill's switched output in its Strabane factory from kit and teamwear to medical scrubs for front line workers, whilst luxury fashion house Burberry transformed its trench coat factory in Castleford to make non-surgical gowns.

Meanwhile, leading packaging manufacturer Polybags has expanded its own Hygiene and PPE range, which features a number of product lines, including protective face masks, full face shields, disposable aprons and polythene gloves.

Whilst businesses have been adapting to help the NHS in the fight against Coronavirus, volunteers across the UK have also been doing their bit to support the national effort.

When a London doctor put out a call for protective face visors to friends on WhatsApp, her appeal snowballed via social media and a project labelled the 'Visor Army' soon led to the creation of 75,000 shields from concerned helpers.

Dr Deborah Braham, a consultant in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine at Hammersmith Hospital in west London, told the BBC she was "overwhelmed" by the response.

"Initially it was just people I knew who came on board, then it was people I didn't know," she said. "Within a short time this whole thing had grown so big with so many people wanting to help.

"It's given a lot of people a real sense of purpose and contribution in what are very difficult times. It's been a real community effort and I cannot thank these people enough."

Image courtesy of Polybags.

Flat wine bottle company gets lockdown boost

Flat wine bottle

One of the UK's most innovative packaging designs of recent years has received an unexpected boost during the Coronavirus pandemic.

British start-up Garçon Wines created the world's first 'flat' wine bottle for the purpose of increasing sustainability but, with UK delivery services soaring during lockdown, the product's sleek design - which can fit through a letterbox in packaging - has seen it prove a winner with wine drinkers across the country.

The award-winning, climate-friendly product was designed to save energy whilst reducing carbon emissions and logistics costs, but now punters keen to maintain social distancing have taken the opportunity to get wine delivered without even having to see a delivery person.

"We invented a flat wine bottle that would fit through most UK letterboxes and was lightweight, strong and eco-friendly," Garçon Wines chief executive and co-founder Santiago Navarro told The Guardian.

"Today we have a very different situation, where letterbox wine is in higher demand than ever. An invention created for convenience and sustainability has turned into a product wanted during this pandemic for continuity and safety."

The lightweight, flat wine bottles, made entirely of 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), are just 4cm deep, whilst standing only 2cm taller than a regular, round 75cl bottle.

Each bottle is approximately 87% lighter than an average glass wine bottle, meaning it saves energy, whilst its flat design allows more efficient packing and space-saving during transportation, thus further reducing its carbon footprint and logistics costs.

The London-based company is going from strength to strength, having recently expanded their range - already in Europe - into the United States, whilst also picking up the Award for Innovation at ITV's inaugural Food & Drink Awards in February.

The award follows on from a hugely successful 2019, which saw them win Best Packaging Design at the World Beverage Innovation Awards, along with a joint first place in the Innovation of the Year category at the Footprint Drinks Sustainability Awards.

Image courtesy of Garçon Wines.

5p carrier bag charge waived as UK government responds to coronavirus crisis

Plastic carrier bags

The UK government has waived the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags for online deliveries, in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The waiver will allow supermarkets to speed up their processing of online deliveries at a time of unprecedented demand, following the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Environment Secretary George Eustice announced the ban as part of a raft of measures aimed at ensuring a steady supply of goods to consumers, with many supermarket shelves stripped by panic buyers as restrictions tighten in response to the global pandemic.

"We need people to calm down and buy only what they need and think of others while purchasing," said Eustice.

"We recognise that this is a challenging time and there are many things that the government is asking the nation to do differently.

"Be responsible when you shop and think of others. Buying more than you need means others may be left without and it is making life more difficult for our frontline workers, who are working so hard under such difficult circumstances."

This is the first time the 5p 'carrier bag tax' has been waived since it came into effect in England in October 2015, following earlier introductions in Wales (October 2011), Northern Ireland (April 2013) and Scotland (October 2014).

The charge was introduced in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced and it had an immediate effect on consumer behaviour - for a while at least.

The number of carrier bags given out by supermarkets in England dropped by 74% in the first two years - from 7.6 billion in 2014 to two billion in 2016, with Wales (71%), Northern Ireland (72%) and Scotland (80%) reporting similar decreases in the first 12 months of their respective schemes.

Long-term changes in consumer habits have not all been quite so positive, however.

A report in November 2019 found that seven of the UK's ten leading supermarkets had actually increased the amount of plastic packaging they use in the previous 12 months, including a 25 percent increase in the use of 'bags for life'.

These sturdy plastic bags - which must be used four times to be deemed more eco-friendly than a traditional carrier bag - were designed to be used until they wore out, but the report suggests that this is not happening, with 1.5 billion of them handed out in 12 months - the equivalent of 54 per UK household.

US egg retailer launches industry-first reusable packaging

Pete & Gerry's Organic Eggs' new resuable cartons

We're used to taking reusable shopping bags to the supermarket and an increasing number of us get our take-away coffee in a reusable mug, so how about using a reusable carton to buy our fresh eggs from the supermarket?

One US egg retailer is hoping its customers are ready to do just that, having developed the world's first reusable egg carton to go to market.

Pete & Gerry's Organic Eggs have launched a pilot trial for the new packaging - made of recycled, durable, BPA-free plastic - at two branches of the Hanover Co-op Food Stores, in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The polypropylene cartons, which currently retail at $2.99, can be washed at home and reused repeatedly, with customers able to refill their tray from the company's display of loose eggs - available at a discounted rate compared to boxed eggs, so that the reusable carton pays for itself over time.

Pete & Gerry's have already shown that you don't need to be a corporate giant to come up with big ideas in the sustainable packaging industry.

In 2012, the brand worked with Canadian research company Quantis to carry out a complete environmental life-cycle assessment of a range of egg cartons, which found their recycled PET packaging to be the most environmentally friendly.

But now the company has gone one step further, in the hope that their customers will join them on their journey to become even more sustainable.

"While we are confident in the sustainability of our current carton - which is made from 100% recycled plastic and has less environmental impact than the Styrofoam or molded pulp cartons used by conventional egg brands - we continue to challenge ourselves to find even better ways to improve our environmental stewardship," said Pete & Gerry's CEO Jesse Laflamme.

"Reusable cartons are a logical next step in our ongoing commitment to sustainability, moving consumer behavior from recycling to reuse. We plan to expand this program in 2020 to reach even more consumers and amplify the program's impact with major retailers clamoring for this type of sustainable innovation."

According to Pete & Gerry's, the average US consumer eats 279 eggs per year, or the equivalent of 23 dozen-size egg cartons.

Replacing the cartons used by just one person with a reusable version would save more than 1,800 cartons from entering the recycling and waste stream across the course of their lifetime.

Projecting this to the US population of 330 million people, you could replace more than 594 billion cartons over a lifetime - enough to circle the globe over 4,000 times - which highlights the impact that a more sustainable choice of packaging could make in just a single industry.

Pete & Gerry's have some way to go to change the industry as a whole but, after a positive response to the trial to date - both in store and via public messages of support - they are determined to lead the way.

"Our consumers expect Pete and Gerry's to be on the leading edge of sustainability," added Laflamme.

"Like many other consumer packaged goods companies, we recognize that reuse is even better than recycling, and we're proud to be at the forefront of this growing movement to help reduce the impact of packaging on the planet.

"This is a pilot program, but we are emboldened by the initial results and committed to new ways of thinking about how we deliver on our promise to be a responsible force for good."

Images courtesy of Pete & Gerry's Organic Eggs.

Bioplastic breakthrough could revolutionise recycling

Plastic bottles ready for recycling

Researchers at two UK universities have developed a new method of chemical recycling that could prove a major breakthrough in how we use and recycle plastic.

The scientists broke down a sustainable bioplastic into its original building blocks, which could potentially allow the material to be recycled repeatedly without losing quality.

UK consumers currently recycle around 45 per cent of plastic waste - a figure that is on the increase - but, due to the limitations of current recycling methods, recycled plastic is invariably of lower quality than an original product.

This degradation in quality is the reason why plastic drink bottles cannot be repeatedly made into new bottles, but instead are used for lower-grade products such as plastic furniture, playground equipment or insulation for clothes and sleeping bags.

But now a research team at the Universities of Bath and Birmingham have developed a method of chemical recycling that could potentially make new plastics of the same quality as the original.

The new research - published in the sustainable chemistry journal ChemSusChem - moves away from traditional recycling to chemical recycling methods, which convert plastics back into their constituent chemical molecules.

"Most plastic is currently recycled using mechanical methods, where they are chipped into granules and melted down before being moulded into something new," said Professor Matthew Jones from the Centre for Sustainable & Circular Technologies at the University of Bath.

"The problem is, melting plastic changes its properties, and reduces the quality, which limits the range of products in which it can be used.

"Our method of chemical recycling overcomes this problem by breaking down plastic polymers into their chemical building blocks, so they can be used all over again to make virgin plastic without losing any properties."

Professor Jones and his colleagues recycled plant-based polyactic acid (PLA) - a bioplastic made from starch or crop waste which is used in the production of biodegradable food packaging and disposable cutlery.

Although the use of PLA in packaging is on the increase, limitations on both its biodegradability and recyclability pose problems for the industry - something the paper's lead author hopes their research can help to overcome.

"Whilst PLA is biodegradable under industrial conditions, it doesn't biodegrade with home composting, and isn't currently recycled, so at the moment it commonly ends up contributing to the tonnes of plastic waste in landfill and oceans," said Dr Paul McKeown from the University of Bath.

"There is no single solution to the problem of plastic waste – the approach has to be a combination of reducing, reusing and recycling.

"Our method of chemical recycling could allow carbon to be recycled indefinitely - creating a circular economy rather than digging more up from the ground in the form of fossil fuels, or releasing it into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas."

Dr McKeown and his team have extended their trial to test out a similar process for recycling PET - the material used to make drinks bottles - whilst collaborators at the University of Birmingham are also attempting scale up the research and replicate the results using larger quantities of starting chemicals.

With public awareness growing around both the issue of plastic pollution and the climate emergency, consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging is increasing all the time.

Retailers across the UK continue to expand their eco-packaging ranges, with leading manufacturer Polybags also rolling out a set of packaging standards across its catalogue to help customers choose the right sort of eco-packaging for them.

A series of handy icons assigned to each product identifies, amongst other things, whether that product is biodegradable, compostable, recyclable or made from 100% recycled material. Each icon is linked to a helpful eco-packaging guide that presents customers with all of the information they need to know about Polybags' range of sustainable products.

Whilst these categories are often quite distinct in today's market, this new research points to a future with a much greater crossover between bioplastics and recyclables, which is surely good news in the battle to tackle plastic waste.

Colgate launches 'first ever' recyclable toothpaste tube

Colgate's new 'Smile for Good' toothpaste

Colgate has been hailed for breaking new ground in the packaging world by launching a new toothpaste in a recyclable tube.

The new 'Smile for Good' brand is part of the company's target to make all of its packaging recyclable by 2025.

Global consumers are estimated to use 20 billion tubes of toothpaste a year.

Until now, these tubes have been typically difficult to recycle, due to their traditional mix of materials, such as plastic or aluminum.

But now Colgate's engineers have found a way to transform high density polyethylene (HDPE) - the hard plastic used to produce milk containers - into a 'comfortably squeezable' tube, which can be placed in traditional recycling collections after use.

The breakthrough tube was five years in development, but Colgate-Palmolive have said they will share the technology with rival manufacturers, as part of its commitment to reduce usage of one of the least-recyclable forms of plastic packaging.

"Colgate wants to make tubes a part of the circular economy by keeping this plastic productive and eliminating waste," said Colgate-Palmolive's chief executive, Noel Wallace.

"If we can standardise recyclable tubes among all companies, we all win. We can align on these common standards for tubes and still compete with what’s inside them."

The new toothpaste is on sale in Boots and Waitrose and, whilst it comes at a high price for consumers at £5 for a 75ml tube - six times more than other Colgate brands - the breakthrough has been welcomed by waste industry experts.

"It is encouraging to see a major brand making efforts to design plastic packaging that is more easily recyclable," said Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

"It is important that changes like this are made in collaboration with other partners in the supply chain, to ensure that the packaging can be recycled within our current infrastructure."

Image courtesy of Colgate-Palmolive.

Polybags launches 2020 vision

Polybags 2020 stocklist

Environmentally-friendly packaging solutions have been placed front and centre in the 2020 Polybags catalogue, which is out now.

The Greenford manufacturer has been at the forefront of the eco-packaging industry in the UK since the 1990s and their new 120-page colour stocklist features a wide range of new products, including an extended eco-friendly offering across many ranges - all available online at Polybags.co.uk.

Founded in 1962, Polybags has been one of the UK's most trusted packaging manufacturers for over half a century, but an ever-increasing range of products made from recyclable, compostable, biodegradable and recycled materials - supported by a helpful online guide to eco-packaging - has marked them out as an industry leader in the field in recent years.

Among the new ranges in their 2020 catalogue - which is printed on paper from responsible sources and contributes to sustainable forest management - are a variety of fully recyclable mailing solutions, including padded paper mailing bags, extra large kraft mailers and inflatable protection bags.

Jon Lomax, managing director at Polybags, said: "Our commitment to environmental issues is ongoing and it evolves as advances in technology create new eco-friendly opportunities and challenges. At Polybags, we firmly believe in socially-responsible production and this is embedded into every aspect of our company culture."

Customers can request a copy of the new Polybags catalogue via the company's website, where you can also browse the entire Polybags catalogue online.

Plastic ban 'could be harmful' for environment, warns report

Fruit in plastic packaging on display

Public pressure on companies to get rid of plastic packaging could result in more harmful consequences for the environment, a report has revealed.

New research for the Circular Economy Task Force, based on anonymised interviews from leading UK supermarkets and brands, reveals that companies are on the verge of swapping plastic for other materials with potentially greater environmental consequences, including higher carbon emissions.

The report by the Green Alliance - an environmental charity and think tank - claims that an absence of government direction in tackling plastic pollution is leading to a disjointed and potentially counterproductive approach to solving the problem.

Relatively little has changed in two years since the BBC's Blue Planet II series cemented the issue of plastic pollution into the public's consciousness, with the equivalent of 900 pieces of 'single-use' plastic still put on supermarket shelves for every person living in the UK every year.

The new report, entitled 'Plastic promises: what the grocery sector is really doing about packaging', quotes industry insiders, showing that big changes are on the way that could have negative consequences, including higher carbon emissions and lower packaging recyclability.

For example, single-use plastic is being replaced by other single-use packaging, or plastic bottles by glass bottles, with businesses admitting that alternatives are sometimes being chosen without fully evaluating their environmental impact.

"We are aware that [by switching from plastic to other materials] we may, in some cases, be increasing our carbon footprint," said one interviewee, whilst another said: "There are people who would like us to take plastic out of the soft drinks section and replace it with something else like glass and Tetra paks, which aren’t recycled [in the area]."

The report highlights concerns over compostable or 'biodegradable' plastic, a lack of understanding of what the terms mean and how the materials should be dealt with once used.

Interviewees wanted a clearer approach on this issue and bemoaned a lack of "joined up thinking" across the sector, whilst others were concerned over misinformation about the eco-credentials of the alternatives to plastic packaging.

"The past year has just really pissed me off no end with companies coming out and boasting about not using plastic, even when they're in single-use glass, and their carbon emissions are going to be off the scale," said one respondent.

The report says that many companies want to see more "top-down intervention", with the government being "braver" and playing a bigger role in directing developments and setting standards so that future action is coherent across the industry.

Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said: "The public are right to be outraged about plastic pollution. But what we don't want is, a few years down the line, for them to be outraged about new environmental problems caused by the alternatives. We need to address the root of the problem, our throwaway society.

"Companies need much more help from the government to tackle plastic pollution without making climate change and other environmental impacts worse in the process."

Despite the shared aims and commitments of companies across the grocery sector, the report states that individual companies are developing their own policies around plastic to gain a competitive advantage, which could end up making environmental problems worse.

"If we aren't careful, short term decisions could cause longer term problems for establishing a true circular economy," said Adam Read, external affairs director at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK - a member of the Circular Task Economy Force.

"As the war on plastics continues to rage, avoiding unintended consequences should be at the forefront of everyone's minds, and that includes government, industry and, of course, consumers. Change must be managed and planned if we're to move towards fully closed-loop systems for recycling and, more importantly, reuse.

"That means we need to think much more carefully - and quickly - about how materials like compostable plastic are introduced. We must ensure a system where they are used where they make sense and in a way that people will understand to limit contamination and leakage."

'Bags for life' blamed as UK supermarkets' plastic use increases

Bags for life

Seven of the UK's top 10 supermarkets have increased the amount of plastic packaging they use in the last 12 months, a damning new report has revealed.

Of the 10 retail giants - who represent 94.4 percent of the grocery retail market - only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's have managed to achieve small reductions to their plastic footprint in 2019.

The report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace revealed that the amount of plastic produced by UK supermarkets has risen to more than 900,000 tonnes a year, despite public commitments to reduce the figure.

This includes sales of an astonishing 1.5 billion bags for life - an increase of 25 percent on last year based on market share.

Bags for life were designed to be used repeatedly until they are worn out, at which point supermarkets would replace them but, with the 1.5 billion figure representing around 54 bags per UK household, the title 'bag for a week' would be closer to the mark.

EIA ocean campaigner Juliet Phillips said: "It's shocking to see that despite unprecedented awareness of the pollution crisis, the amount of single-use plastic used by the UK's biggest supermarkets has actually increased in the past year.

"Our survey shows that grocery retailers need to tighten up targets to drive real reductions in single-use packaging and items. We need to address our throwaway culture at root through systems change, not materials change – substituting one single-use material for another is not the solution."

Since the introduction of a 5p carrier bag tax on traditional 'single use' carrier bags came into effect in October 2015, the number of carrier bags given out by supermarkets dropped from 7.6 billion in 2014 to two billion in 2016.

Many supermarkets no longer give out the old 'single use' carrier, but the rise in use of 'bags for life' suggests that many people have now switched to using these thicker bags, which contain far more plastic than their lighter counterparts.

A 2011 Environment Agency study found that 'bags for life' needed to be used at least four times to ensure they contributed less to climate change than the lighter, single-use bags, yet many supermarkets have drastically increased their use in the past year.

Iceland's sales of 'bags for life' have risen tenfold in the past 12 months - from 3.5 million to 34 million - whilst Tesco's sales rose from 430 million to 713 million - an increase of almost two-thirds.

The Greenpeace and EIA report calls for a total government ban or a minimum 'bag for life' charge of 70p. It references a cut in sales of 90% in the Republic of Ireland, following a similar price hike in 2017.

"I think it's clear from this that customers are using them ['bags for life'] as a single-use option. Clearly the five to 10p charge is not enough to incentivise customers to stop using these just once," said Phillips.

"'Bags for life' actually contain more plastic than single-use carriers did, so they are having more of an environmental impact if people are just using them once."

Retailers get set for Christmas with last-minute festive packaging offers

Your top Christmas packaging deals in one place

  • United Kingdom - Promotional carrier bags & mailing bags from Polybags, plus other festive special offers
  • USA - Fantastic Christmas gift bag offers from Papermart and Party City
  • Australia & New Zealand - Great Christmas gift bag selection from The Base Warehouse (Aus) and The Warehouse (NZ)
Christmas packaging 2019

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, 'tis the season to be jolly... if you're looking for packaging bargains!

With December upon us, retailers everywhere are in the midst of the busiest few weeks of the year.

The clock is counting down fast to Christmas day and, with high quality festive packaging so important at this time of year, it's vital that retailers are stocked up on packaging to meet their business needs, whilst bringing some Christmas cheer to their customers.

Of course, your personalised, printed festive packaging will have been sorted well in advance but, if you're looking to top up your packaging to cater for the last-minute rush then there are still plenty of deals to be had, wherever you are in the world.

In the United States, there's a great selection of Christmas gift bags on sale at Papermart, who also offer a bulk discount of 15% off any orders over €200, which could come in handy if you want to pick up some of their jumbo plastic Christmas gift bags.

It's also party time at Party City, who are offering a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer on their Christmas gift bags and boxes.

There's a sunny Christmas on the way down under, but that doesn't make it any less festive. In Australia, The Base Warehouse has a great selection of Christmas Gift Bags, as does The Warehouse in New Zealand.

On this side of the pond, Polybags - the UK's number one polythene manufacturer - has some great festive special offers to spread the Christmas spirit to their customers, with 20% off their range of jumbo carriers - perfect for stuffing as full as Santa's sack - and 10% off gift bottle bags.

Whether you're an online retailer who needs mailing bags for those last minute deliveries, or you need to stock up on some festive red and white carriers to bring the joys of Christmas to your customers, with over 100 million polythene bags in stock, Polybags can cater for every festive need.

Product images courtesy of Papermart.com, Partycity.com, Thewarehouse.co.nz and Polybags.co.uk.

Bioplastic made from fish waste scoops design award for British student

Packaging made from fish waste

A British student who designed a compostable alternative to plastic film made of fish waste has won a prestigious design award and a £30,000 prize.

Lucy Hughes, a product design graduate from the University of Sussex, was the 2019 International Winner of the James Dyson Award for her product MarinaTex, which has the potential to replace plastic in food and drink packaging.

In designing the product as part of her degree, the 24-year-old sought to solve the twin problems of single-use plastics and inefficient waste by using fish off-cuts that would otherwise end up in landfill to create a home-compostable alternative to plastic film.

A report from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation states that 50 million tonnes of fish waste are produced globally each year, whilst fish processing in the UK alone produces 172,000 tonnes of waste annually.

MarinaTex claims to find a new use for this waste with a more circular end product that can biodegrade naturally in a soil environment in four to six weeks, despite tensile tests showing the product to be stronger at the same thickness than LDPE - the polythene commonly used in plastic bags - making it ideal for packaging applications.

"Plastic is an amazing material, and as a result we have become too reliant on it as designers and engineers," said Hughes.

"It makes no sense to me that we're using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a life-cycle of less than a day."

"For me, MarinaTex represents a commitment to material innovation and selection by incorporating sustainable, local and circular values into design. As creators, we should not limit ourselves in designing to just form and function, but rather form, function and footprint."

Hughes had already pocketed £2,000 in September as the winner of the UK awards, before beating competition from over 1,000 young designers from 28 different countries this month to scoop the international prize.

The James Dyson award is open to current and recent design engineering students, challenging them to "design something that solves a problem".

The awards are run by the James Dyson Foundation - the British designer’s charitable trust - as part of its mission to get young people excited about design engineering.

Dyson said: "Young engineers have the passion, awareness and intelligence to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Ultimately, we decided to pick the idea the world could least do without. MarinaTex elegantly solves two problems: the ubiquity of single-use plastic and fish waste."

Image courtesy of MarinaTex.co.uk.

Polybags go green for new 2019 catalogue

Polybags' catalogue

Polybags Ltd has put eco-packaging to the fore in their new spring/summer 2019 catalogue.

The 116-page colour stocklist from the UK's leading polythene packaging manufacturer features a wide range of new products, including more eco-friendly options that reflect Polybags' commitment to environmental responsibility.

You can browse the full catalogue online in the Polybags Packaging Shop or, if you'd prefer a hard copy of the catalogue - which features a bold green summer's day cover - you can request one online and the friendly Polybags team will post it out to you.

A longstanding market leader on eco-packaging, Polybags recently launched a helpful guide to eco-packaging to help customers distinguish between indexed compostable, biodegradable, recyclable and 100%-recycled products through a series of handy icons across their online catalogue.

Now their ever-increasing range of eco-friendly products are being put front and centre in their new catalogue, as they are incorporated into existing product ranges, rather than being displayed separately.

With their new eco-ranges featuring amongst 100 million bags in stock across a dozen categories - from carrier bags to waste sacks - along with a free sample service, free UK delivery and their famous no-quibbles guarantee, Polybags' new catalogue shows why they continue to lead the way on the UK packaging market.

Tesco trials packaging-free fruit and vegetables

Supermarket loose bananas

Supermarket giant Tesco has launched a plastic-free trial on fruit and vegetables in a bid to reduce packaging waste.

The month-long pilot, which began on 25 March, will see Tesco Extra stores in Watford and Swindon remove all plastic packaging from 45 products where loose versions are available, including apples, bananas, onions, peppers, mushrooms and avocados.

The supermarket chain previously announced plans to ban hard-to-recycle plastic packaging by 2019, whilst pledging to make all packing fully-recyclable by 2025.

Sarah Bradbury, director of quality at Tesco, said: "We want to remove as much plastic as we can from our products, only using what is necessary to protect and preserve our food.

"We hope this trial proves popular with customers.  We'll be keeping a close eye on the results, including any impact on food waste.”

A report by Greenpeace in November revealed that the UK's 10 leading supermarkets are putting 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic packaging on to the market every year.

In addition, the supermarkets are responsible for putting 1.1bn 'single-use' plastic bags, 1.2bn plastic bags for fruit and vegetables and 958m reusable 'bags for life' on the market, according to a Greenpeace survey.

Tesco is the UK's largest supermarket chain, commanding over a quarter (27.4%) of the market.

The results of their new trial will be awaited with interest by a packaging industry seeking to balance increasing consumer demand for a reduction in plastic packaging with a reduction in food waste.

Last year, the Waste and Resources Action Programme reported that UK households produced 7.1 million tonnes of food waste in 2015. This is out of a total of 10.2 million tonnes of post-farm food waste, worth an estimated £20 billion.

Unwanted food that ends up in landfill creates methane - a greenhouse gas roughly 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Currently only 35% of households in England are obliged to put food waste in a separate bin or caddy, compared to 56% in Scotland and 100% in Wales.

Children show parents the way on recycling

Four coloured recycling bins

Parents have been shamed by their own children for bad recycling practices, a survey has revealed.

A poll of 2,000 parents found one in six believed their children - aged five to 18 - knew more about recycling than they did.

Two-thirds of adults confessed to throwing something away simply because they 'can't be bothered' to recycle it, whilst four in 10 said they had been caught doing so by one of their children.

Kids were also good at prompting positive habits at the supermarket, with half reminding parents to use 'bags for life' rather than using 'single-use' carrier bags, whilst one in four encouraged parents to buy loose fruit and vegetables with no plastic packaging.

The research was carried out by the Mid-Counties Co-Operative, whose '1Change' campaign aims to "engage members and the next generation" to tackle the use of single-use plastics.

"Reducing single-use plastic is a high priority for our 700,000 members, so we wanted to understand whether this desire was making its way to the next generation," said Mike Pickering, the co-operative's social responsibility manager.

"Our results show, happily, that the mantle is also being passed down, with children showing real engagement in sustainable living - something we see regularly through our work with schools."

Three quarters of adults polled said they were worried about the state of the world they would leave behind for the next generation, although only six out of 10 said they were trying to cut down on single-use plastics.

Eight out of 10 respondents believed retailers have a responsibility to teach customers more about recycling packaging and single-use plastics.

"It's up to all of us to make sure we're doing our best when it comes to our purchasing habits and recycling," added Pickering.

"Through 1Change, the Society is working with schools to educate children about the environmental impact of single-use plastic. We're seeking to engage with 50 schools through our 'Plastic is not Fantastic' education programme this year.

"We're also removing single-use plastic carrier bags across our premium supermarkets by 2020 and we're committed to reduce waste through our operations by 20 percent by 2022, while maintaining our recycling rate of 99 percent."

Eco-packaging broken down by leading manufacturer

Polybags' eco-friendly bags and standards

New Polybags guide helps customers to make an informed choice on green packaging

The tide is starting to turn in the fight to tackle plastic pollution.

The UK government is consulting on plans for a ban on single-use plastic items such as straws, cutlery and cotton buds by 2020, whilst the European Union voted overwhelmingly for a similar ban to come into effect by 2021.

Thanks largely to David Attenborough's Blue Planet II series - which highlighted the plight of wildlife affected by plastic waste in our oceans - the public has never been more switched on to the problem or more keen to seek eco-friendly alternatives.

The most eco-friendly option is often for consumers to simply re-use existing bags before recycling them. The term 'single-use' carrier bag is a misnomer, whereas resealable bags such as grip seal bags are designed for multiple uses.

Nevertheless, with plastic waste so high on the public agenda, many consumers are looking for alternatives to traditional polythene packaging altogether. Unfortunately, the information available to them to make an informed choice on such an important topic is often lacking - until now at least.

With environmental considerations high on their agenda, one UK packaging company has introduced a series of standards to help customers better understand the difference between the various types of eco-friendly packaging that they stock and manufacture.

Polybags Ltd has introduced to its website a series of handy icons to help customers distinguish between the different forms of eco-packaging in its extensive range. These are supported by a series of articles and classifications to explain each standard and help customers distinguish between them.

The new eco-standards include:

Polybags don't stop there. Their online catalogue is now categorised to highlight a range of other product features that will no doubt prove useful to prospective buyers.

Food-safe, freezer-safe and antistatic products are all highlighted, as are resealable and peel & seal bags, plus extra strong and high-security packaging, to name a few.

Each easily-identifiable product feature is covered with a handy user guide to allow customers to make an informed choice.

As the UK market leader in polythene bags and responsible packaging, many more packaging companies are expected to follow Polybags' lead and adopt a more transparent approach to informing their customers about the products they are buying.

Fungi could help win the war on the plastic waste

Funghi

The war on plastic packaging waste has received a new ally - fungi.

Researchers at London's Kew Gardens have released a report on the state of the world's fungi and top of the bill - for the packaging industry at least - was the revelation that the natural properties of fungi could be used to break down plastic in weeks rather than years.

Dr Ilia Leitch, senior scientist at Kew Gardens, said: "This is incredibly exciting because it is such a big environmental challenge. If this can be the solution, that would be great."

The report highlighted a recent study by a team of scientists from China and Pakistan, who discovered the fungus Aspergillus tubingensis was degrading plastic on a waste disposal site in Islamabad.

Having isolated the fungus, the scientists observed that it was capable of breaking down the bonds in plastics such as polyester polyurethane - used in a variety of products, including refrigerator insulation and synthetic leather - in a matter of weeks, rather than decades, as would be the case if left to degrade naturally.

"There is this hidden, mysterious kingdom that is underpinning the majority of life on earth," said Dr Leitch.

"We just don't know enough about them… There are fungi inside plant cells and they can influence how resilient a plant is to climate change. There are all these different links and impacts that we just take for granted but we ignore them at our peril.

"By understanding how the fungi break down these bonds and what the optimal conditions are, you can then increase the speed at which they do it."

There are estimated to be up to 3.8 million species of fungus on the planet, only 144,000 of which have currently been named and classified.

With 2,000 new species being added to that list each year, Aspergillus tubingensis has highlighted the exciting potential for using fungi as a tool to address the growing problem of managing plastic waste.

Researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s, about 60% of which has ended up in either landfill or the natural environment.

With almost 300 million tonnes of plastic currently produced every year and an estimated eight million tonnes dumped annually into our oceans, plastic pollution is becoming an increasing global concern.

But with scientists exploring the potential of other fungi and microorganisms to break down a range of plastics, Dr Leitch is hopeful that a major breakthrough will be found within the next decade.

"We are in the early days of research but I would hope to see the benefits of fungi that can eat plastic in five to 10 years," she said.

Businesses to foot the bill for waste recycling

Plastic bottle for recyling

Businesses and manufacturers will be forced to pay for the recycling or disposal of packaging waste they produce, as part a major new government waste strategy.

The comprehensive strategy update - the first from the government in over a decade - aims to overhaul waste management in England and, for the first time, make those who produce packaging legally and financially responsible for the resulting waste.

By extending 'producer responsibility' the government aims to reverse the financial burden of waste management, which currently sees business pay for just 10% of disposal or recycling costs, whilst the taxpayer - via local authorities - picks up the remaining 90%.

Producers will also be expected to take more responsibility for expensive- or hard-to-recycle items, such as cars, batteries and electrical goods.

The wide-ranging Resources and Waste Strategy also targets a simplified and consistent approach to recycling across England in a bid to improve recycling rates, which have plateaued since 2013.

The strategy also includes plans for public consultations on both a deposit return scheme for "single-use" drinks containers - including plastic bottles, cans and take-away coffee cups - and a return to weekly food waste collections in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove hopes the strategy will eliminate avoidable plastic waste and help leave the environment in a better state for future generations.

"Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Together we can move away from being a 'throw-away' society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource," said Gove.

"We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.

"Through this plan we will cement our place as a world leader in resource efficiency, leaving our environment in a better state than we inherited it."

Public eye

The new government strategy builds on other recent policies aimed at reducing waste, including a ban on microbeads in personal care products and a 5p 'carrier bag tax', which has taken a reported 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation.

Waste management - and how to deal with plastic waste in particular - has never been more in the public eye, following David Attenborough's Blue Planet II series, which highlighted the dangers of waste pollution in our oceans.

Professor Richard Thompson, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, believes the strategy outlines key steps towards making progress on waste reduction, but says that producers and consumers both have a key role to play.

"Engaging with producers is crucial because unless products are designed with end of life in mind it is almost inevitable that resource will be wasted unnecessarily," said Prof Thompson.

"The consumer also has an essential role to play. Of course there are some instances where we simply don't need to use plastics in the first place but there are many applications where plastics are the best materials for the job, and we need clear and accurate guidance to inform decisions and change behaviour.

"In my view this is broader than just the consumer and we need to change behaviours right along the supply chain so that we design, use and dispose of plastics more sustainably. It is only by doing so that we can realise the advantages of plastics without the current environmental impacts."