On May 3rd, supermarket giant Sainsbury’s will launch its new ‘touch-free’ meat packaging. This comes after a Mintel survey reported that 37% of respondents under 35 indicated that they would prefer not handling raw meat when cooking. Katherine Hall, Product Development Manager for meat, fish and poultry at Sainsbury’s, told The Sunday Times “These bags allow people, especially those who are time-poor, to just ‘rip and tip’ the meat straight into the frying pan without touching it”. If successful, Sainsbury’s has indicated plans to expand the ‘rip and tip’ packaging into pork and fish products.  

Packaging, much of it single-use food wrapping, has produced a rubbish problem that now pollutes every corner of the world. Thanks to its extreme durability and malleability, plastic has become almost ubiquitous in its use by people globally. Since the 1950’s we have produced an estimated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of the stuff. Of this, some 6.3 billion tonnes is now waste – and 79% of that resides in landfills or the natural environment. However, as Rachelle Strauss of the UK’s ‘ZeroWasteWeek’ explains, we never actually throw anything ‘away’, it’s just put somewhere else. We have become a culture that values convenience at all costs. It is considered perfectly normal to use a ‘single-use’ plastic bottle for an average of 45 minutes before binning it – the same bottle that will take on average 450 years to degrade.  

The products we have chosen for their longevity are being discarded at a rate that is proving lethal for our environment. Plastic doesn’t react well with other chemicals and substances. As a result, it does not break down, but apart. Single-use plastic disintegrates into microscopic range fragmented debris, and this debris is devastating our waterways and the animals that inhabit them. With 8 million tonnes leaking into the oceans every year, approximately a rubbish truck’s worth a minute, it thought that our oceans now contain some 51 trillion microplastic particles. For a little perspective, this is 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy. It is estimated that by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish and that 99% of all seabirds on the planet will have consumed this material. Our voracious appetite for plastic will only continue to produce these destructive statistics.

Without a doubt, plastic provides enormous convenience, and improves day-to-day life in a multitude of ways. The irony of this is that its waste imprisons us, and its microscopic pollution impacts not only our waters and marine life but the human food chain and our overall health and wellbeing. Plastic acts like a sponge for a range of other poisons and pollutants, transporting them through ocean currents and harming more than 600 species, including humans – plastic chemicals are absorbed by the body, and a recent study found that 93% of Americans aged six or older tested positive for BPA (a plastic chemical) and, chances are, so do you.   

Single-use plastics are a human addiction that must be faced head-on; the problem cannot be avoided any longer. Our oceans are drowning in plastic and the futility of our ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude is choking our rivers, our oceans and ultimately ourselves. How do we turn the tide? Fundamentally, we need to create a new normal – a cultural reformation on an almost unprecedented scale. Consumers have been conscious about ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ for decades. Recycling is now commonplace in many countries. Newer initiatives like the plastic bag surcharge and companies such as Deliveroo cutting down on takeaway plastics through an opt-in selection for cutlery are steps in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. As ‘user-friendly’ as the Sainsbury’s initiative is, it’s wrong – and the company’s plan to extend the scheme is dangerously irresponsible. Tackling the problem requires a comprehensive global solution that doesn’t just address the production, but our usage too and undeniably a culture of behavioural changes, now in its infancy, needs greater traction to be implemented at all levels.

Make a conscious effort to reject single use plastics, including ‘rip and tear’ bags – and extend your awareness of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ to include the fourth new R – ‘Refuse.’ Refuse straws and if one must be used, purchase a glass or metal one. Swap out plastic bags for a reusable one, buy boxes instead of bottles for products like laundry detergents, switch to a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush, avoid purchasing unnecessarily plastic wrapped foods such as fruits and vegetables, purchase one reusable cup and save 500 coffee cups from going to waste, invest in a refillable metal lighter or simply use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters. Change your behaviour towards single-use plastic, and you will contribute, through your small changes, to making a difference.