Why plastic?

There are certain things we know for sure about plastic. For a start, we know that conventional plastics do not naturally decompose in a practical timeframe. We know too that plastic’s use has become so widespread in packaging that it now poses very real problems when it comes to protecting the environment, having found its way into every eco-system- threatening our land and our seas.

We know too that very often plastic packaging is regarded as being single use and disposable and we know that that cannot continue. But we know too that some plastics, when responsibly managed, still have an important role to play in our daily lives. And we know that it is incumbent on everybody to change the way we look at plastic and how we use it. And it is for that reason that the Eircycle initiative was established.

1 So Why Is Plastic So Prevalent In Fresh Produce Packaging?

Fruit & Vegetables come wrapped by nature, right? Of course they do. But plastic packaging on fresh produce does serve a purpose. It protects vulnerable produce in global transit, extends shelf life, improves hygiene by warding off microbial threats and substantially cuts food waste and the environmental footprint associated with it.

The transparent properties of plastic are particularly important when it comes to fresh produce given the importance consumer attach to product visibility when selecting produce while its relative low cost keeps prices down, helping to keep fresh fruits & vegetables affordable to all.

Because of this, all of the packaging solutions we are working on in Eircycle are designed to ensure that substitutable, environmentally friendlier packaging offers the very same attributes to conventional plastics, to ensure that consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, something which is enormously importance to health and general well-being, is not adversely impacted.

2 What is required to significantly reduce the use of plastics in fresh produce?

The evolution of an integrated recycling infrastructure

At the moment, in many countries, recycling facilities and systems are not fit for purpose in terms of collecting, separating and sorting various commonly used plastics and accommodating large scale recycling of biodegradable plastics.

It is estimated at the moment only 35% of compostable packaging in Europe is actually separated and processed correctly. The introduction of recyclable compostable bio-plastics is meaningless if not accompanied by the development of collection systems and composting infrastructure.

Scientific innovation

At present, the available alternatives to conventional plastics fall short of what is required to ensure commercial viability and deliver an integrated, easy to understand recycling chain for the consumer to engage with. Further innovation is needed- something which Eircycle had been created to promote.

Eircycle has partnered with expertise within the Plastics Industry, in the development of sustainable, recyclable packaging alternatives, designed specifically for multiple use and which support European Circular Plastics Economy objectives.

Educating consumers on how to manage recyclable plastics

Consumers are presently neither able nor conditioned to discriminate between biodegradable and regular plastics.

Education as to what is compostable, recyclable or neither and how they should be separated in the home will be important in complementing industry efforts to remove plastics from the supply chain.

Commercial viability

At present, critical mass has not been achieved in the production of the alternative plastics that are available on the market and they remain prohibitively expensive.
This is particularly important when it comes to fresh produce as anything which contributes to an inflationary effect of produce prices will inevitably hurt consumption.

At a time when Governments across the world are trying to promote a healthier diet to address obesity and when the environmental community are strongly advocating the adoption of plant based diets to reduce carbon emissions, price increases on fruits and vegetables will ultimately prove to be counterproductive.

3 What Is Eircycle’s policy re: Plastic Packaging?

“Reduce, Recycle, Replace, Reuse, Collaborate”

Eircycle and its sponsor companies are committed to reducing the use of conventional plastic packaging, promoting the recycling of plastic packaging, substituting biodegradable alternatives for conventional plastics where possible and replacing conventional single-use plastic packs with reusable packaging where practical.

We support the European Union’s approach to creating a circular economy and its recognition that this will require investment in an integrated recycling infrastructure across Europe, the education of consumers in recycling practices and cross-industry collaboration.

In Eircycle we believe a collective response from all the players across the fresh produce supply chain is required and we are committed to constructively engaging with all stakeholders to identify and implement change.