Pete Beavis, senior sector specialist and materials scientist at R&D tax credit specialist ForrestBrown, explains why we need to stop demonizing plastics, approach new bioplastics with care and celebrate those who are innovating to reduce the impact on the environment.

It’s an unpopular opinion, but I firmly believe that plastics and the polymers comprising them are wonder materials. Without them, we would most certainly be lost. They touch nearly every part of our lives, from finance and food to medicines and manufacturing, and we capitalize upon their far-reaching benefits on a daily basis.

And now, as our front-line NHS staff have faced an unprecedented challenge, workers across the country are depending on plastic in personal protective equipment to keep them safe and patients are relying on plastic to deliver the medicines they need. In these times of social distancing, the importance of reliable and sustainable food supply chains has never been more evident – and in which the appropriate use of plastics is crucial.

Many people are unaware that the UK wastes 9.5 million tons of food each year. And without the packaging that keeps produce protected and fresh for longer, there’s no doubt that this would be significantly higher. If we were to remove plastic from the equation, the resources, energy and transport required to grow and deliver a significant proportion of our food would all go to waste.

However, this belief comes with a colossal burden. It’s no secret that plastic is also an immense problem. The WWF calculates that total plastic waste generation in the UK will be around 6.3 million tons by 2030, rising by 1.4 million tons in just 16 years. Herein lies the problem. It’s not plastic per se, but the amount and way we use it combined with the impact it has on the natural world after it’s served its initial purpose.

There can’t be many people who haven’t seen or heard of the heart-breaking footage of albatross parents feeding their chicks plastic waste on programs like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2. As an industry and nation, we hardly need reminding of the desperate need to take action.

Log in to your free profile to access the article.

Already a Materials Today member?

Log in to your Materials Today account to access this feature.