We took great interest in some of the speakers at the FPA Environment Seminar last week, and one on the key messages was clarity in the current claims for packaging that are being touted as the next big thing. The picture is muddy at best, and the whole industry needs to address this, even more so than the underlying issue.
PLA (Polylactic Acid) is one of many packaging acronyms out there, and it’s currently a much desired raw material. You may notice this on your hunt for PLA Glasses and packaging, (see above – the next big thing?) as the end product is almost impossible to buy right now. Lead times are vague at best.
Unlike other types of plastic, PLA is sourced from raw materials that need to be specifically grown first. In their raw state, materials are classed as “Renewable Resources” and include Corn Starch, Tapioca Roots and Sugarcane. Although this is in essence a good thing, there is no real closed loop benefit to using them and they may not represent the greenest option out there. Once the product has been used, it will end up in landfill, unless there is a commercial composter local to you. (I searched for composters, and one of the UK’s biggest waste management companies has 5 to service the whole of the UK!) It could be argued that this is a better option than the plastics currently under fire. And yes, on the surface this is correct. It is however, a single use product.
One major downfall to PLA is its availability. Quite simply put, major manufacturers of PLA are unable to keep up with the market demands put on them. They have started to limit their availability – with supply and demand being the way it is, this has pushed the prices up. They can effectively charge what they want at this point.
So that leaves us with a dilemma. Do we carry on listing products that we may or may not be able to supply, at a price that may well increase, or look at alternatives?
One option would be to stock plastic packaging that was made from something recycled, which could then be easily recycled in to something else – like our PET deli pots. Personally, I don’t think that “packaging made from plants, not plastic” is the long term way forward as no single material will solve all the problems we are currently presented with. Buying something that will only ever exist once seems a bit counter productive to me in this day and age, but watch this space. There are roughly 52 million adults in the Uk, and we’ve all got an opinion on this red hot topic!