In a message to mark World Environment Day on Tuesday 5 June, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the world needs to unite to “beat plastic pollution”. He urged consumers to stop buying one-use plastic products and “refuse what you can’t re-use”.

But while most consumers are also conscious about the benefits of purchasing products that come in recyclable packaging, many say supermarkets aren’t doing enough to help them.

Indeed, a recent survey by Greenpeace found that 72% of consumers think supermarkets could do more when it comes to tackling the problem of plastic pollution by addressing plastic packaging. This is further highlighted by the fact 84% of consumers said they find it difficult to avoid plastic packaging in their regular supermarket shop.

A Potential Incentive For Manufacturers

Meanwhile, separate research from Veolia, the UK’s leading resource management company, suggests there is a sales incentive for manufacturers to utilise recyclable packaging for their products.

According to the latest research from YouGov (released by Veolia), over half of British consumers (51%) would choose a new drink that was a similar price, quality and flavour to their usual brand if it came in a recyclable bottle and their usual brand didn’t.

Moreover, 30% of adults say recyclable packaging is an ‘important’ consideration when choosing a drink to buy. In fact, this was cited more than the brand (26%) and the aesthetics of the bottle (9%), suggesting manufacturers could be missing a trick when it comes to encouraging sales.

Estelle Brachlianoff, Senior Executive Vice President of Veolia UK & Ireland, said: “In the UK we fail to capture 44% of all of the plastic bottles we use but imagine if we collected and recycled all of these. This would save approximately 300,000 tonnes of materials and we’d be well on our way to being a truly sustainable society”.

Amazing Innovation, But At What Cost?

There’s no denying that the packaging industry has witnessed innovation and incredible breakthroughs over the years. Food and drink are now kept fresher for longer, and the life of perishables has been significantly extended.

But it’s the lifecycle of the packaging that’s become a problem. UK consumers are estimated to use approximately 13 billion plastic drinks bottles every year, but more than three billion of these are not recycled.

While different kinds of plastic degrade at different rates, the average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is around 450 years. However, bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) will never truly biodegrade. They instead just decompose to a point where they release harmful chemicals into the environment.

The bottom line is that manufacturers, retailers, regulators and experts in the recycling sector need to pull together and do more to make recycling packaging easier.

However, there may be some hope. That’s because scientists have successfully improved a naturally occurring enzyme that can digest some of the most commonly polluting plastics in the world.

The modified enzyme, known as PETase, starts breaking down some plastics in just a few days, which could revolutionise how we recycle plastic and ensure it doesn’t make its way into vital ecosystems.

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