BBC’s War on Plastics questioned over its handling of a ‘complex situation’

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has called into question the ‘balanced evaluation of a complex situation’ regarding the BBC’s War on Plastic series.

The BBC’s War on Plastic first aired last year, with presenters Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani looking at ways to tackle what it calls “the UK’s plastic waste problem”.

This week saw the series return with ‘The Fight goes On’, which sees the presenters continue ‘their fight against single-use plastics’, looking at tea bags and pre-packed sandwiches. It also looks at the impact of Covid-19.

The BPF, however, has called into question how the show deals with what it calls ‘a complex situation’.

It says programmes like War on Plastic are ‘rightly’ encouraging people to think about how everyday decisions can make a difference, however, it says ‘calling a programme ‘War on Plastic’ does not suggest a balanced evaluation of a complex situation and seems to suggest that the material should be condemned in all applications’.

‘The enemy is not plastic, the enemy is plastic waste’

It says ‘the enemy is not plastic, the enemy is plastic waste’.

The BPF says plastic is an enabling technology that is vital to almost every major industry and says the programme did not explain why plastic was used in the first place within a number of packaging applications.

The raw materials for glass and metals need to be mined and trees need to be grown to produce paper bags and paperboard.

All this requires land, energy and water. Plastic is ‘resource efficient’, the BPF says, saying packaging designs are able to use a very small amount of material.

‘It also performs well when materials are compared using lifecycle analysis, which compares a range of environmental factors, including energy and water use,’ the BPF said in a statement, pointing to a study which claims that a world without plastic packaging would result in 2.7 times more greenhouse gas emissions.

Food waste and packaging

The programme focussed on packaging for sandwiches and the plastic lining. The BPF says the lining is necessary as a moisture barrier to keep food hygienic and fresh and to avoid food waste.

‘This is just one example of the unique functional properties of plastics in packaging,’ it said.

‘If we imagine ‘food waste’ was a country, it would come after the US and China (the two worst offenders) in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

The recyclability of packaging is hugely important and from a recycler’s perspective, making packaging out of a single material is preferable

‘That said, the recyclability of packaging is hugely important and from a recycler’s perspective, making packaging out of a single material is preferable. Interestingly, sandwich packs used to be made entirely of plastic and these were 100% recyclable.’

The BPF says it promotes the principles of ecodesign and encourages all packaging designers to design with resource efficiency and recyclability in mind.

The BPF says the War on Plastics also suggested that there had been an increase in the use of single-use plastic packaging, but it says in the past two years the actual tonnage per capita of plastic packaging placed on the market has fallen by 4% and says forecasts expect this to drop further.

‘This reflects a complex picture, where consumer behaviour is changing and numerous industries have experienced a significant fall in demand for their services and products,” the BPF says.

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