Concerns over alternatives to plastic

Posted on 3rd February, 2020

Supermarket chains could be rushing to stop the use of single plastics and using alternatives that may cause more environmental harm, an environmental report has suggested.

The UK environmental think-tank, the Green Alliance, published a report called Plastic Promises in January which was based on interviews with senior packaging and product staff in supermarkets and brands producers.

Findings raised questions about the practicalities involved for retailers when they moved certain products away from single-use packaging. The report suggests that some plastic alternatives could turn out to be harmful in the long run, when looking at factors such as carbon emissions.

Plastic bags

One of the examples highlighted was plastic bags in-store where switching from single use plastic bags for loose produce and bakery items and replacing them with single use paper bags.

“This is a worrying trend, as paper bags, which are often just as unnecessary as their plastic counterparts, can have much higher carbon impacts, though this can depend on material sources and product specification,” the report noted.

Summing up the findings of the report, Green Alliance said that “in the absence of government direction, a disjointed and potentially counterproductive approach to solving plastic pollution is emerging”.


One “particular concern” raised by the Green Alliance is compostable or ‘biodegradable’ plastic. While the research suggests that over 80% of consumers think this is an environmentally friendly product, said the think-tank, there is “little understanding” of what the terms mean and how the material should be dealt with once used.

The report said that the retailers consulted “wanted a clearer approach to where it should be used and how it should be marked to avoid causing more problems”.

Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said: “The public are right to be outraged about plastic pollution. But what we don’t want is, a few years down the line, for them to be outraged about new environmental problems caused by the alternatives. We need to address the root of the problem, our throwaway society.”