My shout: Plastics and packaging – a necessary evil?

By Mike Hanson

- Last updated on GMT

Necessary evil?: Hanson calls for a considered response to emotive campaigns rather than a knee-jerk reaction
Necessary evil?: Hanson calls for a considered response to emotive campaigns rather than a knee-jerk reaction
Mike Hanson, head of sustainable business at independent hospitality provider Baxterstorey considers whether plastic packaging is a necessary evil.

It all started a couple of years ago with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign to rid the world of disposable coffee cups, and was followed by Sir David Attenborough presenting the iconic BBC series Blue Planet II​.

Reducing the use of plastics and packaging is now at the top of everyone’s agenda, and rightly so. We need to act, but the way forward must be considered and not a knee-jerk response to emotive campaigns. 

Plastic, including single use plastic, can be viewed as a vital ingredient in our lives, with its use born largely out of convenience, cost reduction and practicality. As retailers, we want our food, from our drinks to our sandwiches, to be portable, displayed attractively and to be not only fresh but safe. 

The problem arises when the plastic ends up in the wrong place. Around 85% of marine litter has come off the land, either blown by the wind or via rivers and streams, the effects of which were highlighted in shocking footage on Blue Planet II​. 

Within the pub sector many responded by banning single-use plastics such as straws and were encouraged to provide free drinking water to reduce the use of plastic bottles. It’s the beginning of a cultural change in consumer behaviour and a positive approach to reducing our environmental impact, however, these decisions need to be informed to ensure longevity.

When looking at an alternative we must always consider the waste hierarchy – reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and then finally dispose. Every choice has an implication. Take the carrier bag tax, for example. An 82% reduction is fantastic, but the impact of bags for life can be huge. On average a bag for life needs to be used more than 175 times to make it as efficient from a lifecycle perspective as a carrier bag.

Awarded Sustainable Business of the Year at the 2018 edie Sustainability Leaders Awards, hospitality provider Baxterstorey has all its locations conducting a review of every line of packaging and single-use plastic. They must understand volumes and costs as well as the available waste streams at their site, washing and storage facilities, logistics and, of course, customer perception. 

The review will help teams make informed choices. 

A knee-jerk reaction could be detrimental to your business once the implications are more fully understood. 

Taking a measured approach to reviewing business practices means you can say, hand on heart, you have taken an informed view on every plastic item as to whether to keep the status quo or make a change that will have a lasting impact on our environment. Which when all things are considered, is what we are all striving to achieve. 

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