the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam”. Highlighting this statistic is not merely a finger-pointing exercise, but rather to demonstrate that the UK has the opportunity to lead on this issue from a more considered position.

One step forward, two steps back Despite good intentions, the nation’s moral outpouring has ultimately led corporate efforts astray. There is now consensus that biodegradable alternatives is the silver bullet to the plastic problem; businesses essentially have a green light to continue using the same amount of plastic material as they have been, so long as it can be broken down. On face value this makes complete sense, but this approach will inevitably prove counterproductive to any corporate with legitimate ‘green’ aspirations.

Simply converting to biodegradables is troubling for a number of reasons, not least because it shifts responsibility from the organisation producing the waste to local councils which have to find ways to process it. There are, however, three key issues that make the ‘biodegradable solution’ far more problematic.

The first is that there are a limited number of sites within the UK that can actually process biodegradable plastics. Anything that is not taken to one of these facilities – or sorted correctly – will eventually end up in landfill.

“Since the 1950s we’ve produced

8.3bn metric tons of plastic, enough to cover every inch of the UK ankle- deep more than ten times over.”

Secondly, the biodegradable plastic that does end up in landfill will take an extraordinary amount of time to decompose because landfills are aerobic environments. In some cases, this process will take hundreds of years to complete.

Finally, when biodegradation does eventually occur, these plastics will emit methane and ethylene, greenhouse gases that are considerably worse than carbon dioxide in the battle against climate change.

A different approach Some might argue, then, that this intractable problem can only be dealt with by eliminating all plastic from our daily lives, especially in the production of any new material that is destined for single-use.

With the discovery that plastic not only pollutes, but also contributes to climate change, this certainly appears to be the best solution, yet it is a near-impossible target to achieve without long-term international planning. But with time very much of the essence, and a public demanding immediate action, what can be done in the short term that is environmentally-coherent?

“Biodegradable plastic that does end up in landfill will take an extraordinary amount of time to

decompose because landfills are aerobic environments.”

Businesses should continue efforts to eradicate single- use plastic (particularly excessive packaging) within their organisations as this ultimately reduces demand and subsequently the introduction of new plastic into the environment. In catering, for example, items like straws, coffee cups with polyethylene lining, cutlery, and other easily replaceable items should be high up on a company’s ‘hit-list’.

Moreover, rather than just introducing compostable plastic in place of more robust versions, companies should instead be looking at only using products made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and other already- recycled plastics (only, however, in instances where the elimination of plastic is not possible). PET is grade 1 on the table of resin codes and the easiest type of plastic for plants to process. The more businesses use these types of plastic the more efficient the entire recycling process becomes, which in turn diverts refuse from landfill.

Perhaps the most practical solution, however, is greater collaboration between companies. Again, using catering as the example, this would mean partnering with suppliers that share the same green aspirations as the parent organisation and looking for ways to gradually eliminate plastic throughout the entire food chain. Partnerships of this type can also be used to inform colleagues about how the material breaks down and detrimentally impacts the environment.

“Companies should instead be looking at only using products made from polyethylene

terephthalate (PET) and other already-recycled plastics.”

Ultimately, it’s a matter of education. We’ll begin to turn the tide on this issue once we partner greater awareness with effective recycling (i.e. using PET only when absolutely necessary and ensuring landfill diversion) and a long- term commitment to eradicate unnecessary plastic from commerce. Our addiction to plastic is powerful though not unbreakable with an intelligent strategy in place. TOMORROW’S FM | 37

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