Half of companies ignore carbon impact of plastic alternatives: Survey

Matthew Hall 21 January 2020 (Last Updated January 21st, 2020 14:59)

Just under half (49%) of businesses have not examined the carbon impact of single-use plastic alternatives, despite growing pressure for companies to improve the sustainability and recyclability of product packaging in light of the climate crisis.

Half of companies ignore carbon impact of plastic alternatives: Survey
The lack of a universal method has caused confusion as to whether plastics would actually be more suitable than paper or glass in some uses, according to edie. Image credit: WRAP

Just under half (49%) of businesses have not examined the carbon impact of single-use plastic alternatives, despite growing pressure for companies to improve the sustainability and recyclability of product packaging in light of the climate crisis.

In contrast, 39% of the 287 respondents said their organisation had looked into the environmental effects of single-use plastic alternatives, and 34% said their organisation had publicly set a target to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics. A further 12% did not know if their company had looked into plastic substitutes.

The survey, conducted by sustainability brand edie, highlights the need for an “agreed methodology” for assessing the impacts of single-use plastic alternatives. The lack of a universal method has caused confusion as to whether plastics would actually be more suitable than paper or glass in some uses, according to edie.

A 2018 report by plastic waste pressure group the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) estimated that by 2050 plastics will represent 15% of the global carbon footprint, up from 1% at the time of the report.

In 2019, the Center for International Environmental Law said: “If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030, emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 500MW coal power plants.”

However, UK think tank Green Alliance this year said that phasing out plastic packaging and switching to alternative materials could prove similarly unsustainable if there is not sufficient infrastructure for the collection and treatment of substitute materials.

“There are other environmental impacts to consider beyond carbon impacts.” edie said in a press release. “Paper materials can be linked to deforestation unless sustainably sourced and biodegradable oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable may all have to be treated industrially in order to degrade naturally and can contaminate waste streams.”