Posted: 09/09/2020

‘Time to turn off the plastic tap’

plastic coronavirus

Sian Sutherland is the co-founder of global anti-plastic, pro-business campaign organisation A Plastic Planet. She talks to FFD about why now is not the time to forget about cutting down on plastics.

During the coronavirus pandemic, politicians stood side by side with scientists to appeal to the public to follow their guidance, but, says Sutherland, nobody is listening to the science on plastic. 

During coronavirus, she says, we have “reverted out of fear to using this dinosaur material as the default for almost anything, including PPE”. People are opting for pre-packed goods in favour of loose produce because it seems safer. 

“The focus has diverted away from reducing plastic because now everybody is worried about food safety but the reality is that there is nothing safer than washing your produce at home – go back to the basics of buying fruit and veg and washing it under the tap and the scientists tell us it will be fine,” says Sutherland. 

The rush back to plastics due to COVID, be it visors and masks, pre-packed produce or single-use sauce sachets is universally evident and has been widely reported. 

But, for Sutherland, all hope is not lost. “I’m very positive that the pendulum that has swung one way because of COVID, will swing back the right way with a vengeance.

“Where there is a crisis there is always an opportunity, and I think that the UK has a moment in time where we can become a really big part of this new growing bioeconomy.”

And, says the campaigner, it is the nation’s indies that are at the forefront of the movement.

“It’s the smaller brands and retailers that are leading the charge on plastics, while the bigger brands are treading water, waiting to see the direction of travel. 

“And I don’t know why they’re hesitating because the direction has to be less reliance on plastic!”

Plastic-free products do come at a premium, though, which may put some retailers off stocking these lines. But Sutherland is confident that, unlike the early days of organic, the right to buy plastic free must be available to all.

“I think that right now the public wants to be more connected to nature than ever before and buying plastic-free is a reason to buy.”

Sutherland says that when the inevitable plastic tax and ‘extended producer responsibility’ lands, the true cost of the impact and disposal of plastics will be revealed. “For retailers and brands thinking, ‘is this the right time to be making the switch? I would encourage them to do so because this is about paying it forward.”

What the Soil Association is for organic, A Plastic Planet is to plastic-free, and the body has created a certification standard so consumers can see at a glance that a product is truly packaged in biomaterial.

“You have seconds to appeal to a customer to let them know that you have invested in a nature-friendly material so that’s why certification is so important,” says Sutherland. “This needs to become a benchmark, so when you see it you know the product is 100% plastic free and without any harmful chemicals added.”

According to research, plastic production is set to be four times what it is now in the next 10 years, so now is the time, says Sutherland, to turn off the plastic tap.

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