Bottling up problems

Popping to the supermarket for a quick shop is the only bit of relief from our immediate surroundings we have currently. On my most recent trip, I couldn’t help but notice discarded bottles, wrappers and all sorts of detritus on the way to, and within the bounds of, the shops. It’s a shame as you’d like to think the changes we have seen implemented over the last few years would make a difference – here and overseas.

A report by international development and relief agency Tearfund claims that single-use bottles, sachets and packets produced by the companies are being burnt in developing countries at an alarming rate and contributing to the climate crisis in the process.

The Burning Question report found that the four global companies create enough plastic pollution to cover 83 football pitches every day. According to the report, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever are responsible for half a million tonnes of plastic pollution that is burnt or dumped annually in six developing countries – China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria.

The plastic is burnt or discarded as the nations don’t have the capacity or recycling infrastructure to handle that volume of material. According to the report, the wastage that is burnt creates emissions equivalent to 4.6 million tonnes of CO2 – the same as two million cars on UK roads.

It appears legislation to cut down on plastic is good to see, even calling on producers to be more responsible, but innovations in science and technology may help reverse the devastating effects of plastic we don’t need to use.

The technology on offer is ingenious. For example, a patented magnetic catalyst can break PET plastic down to molecular level – so back to the original building blocks. A plant-derived, water-based coating has been designed by California-based food technology company Apeel Sciences, which acts as an invisible skin or “peel” and dramatically slows the rate of spoilage, meaning food stays fresh for longer.

Businesses in food and drink catering to many people possess the opportunity to reduce plastic waste on a large scale. Making the necessary adjustments may require costs, but the payout will result in greater production savings, and a positive reputation.

Ongoing news of the impact of plastic pollution may seem bleak and make it appear like an impossible problem to overcome; however, technological development gives us hope. After all, history has shown that human ingenuity is never greater than when faced with overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems.


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