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The findings of a new report about the grocery sector have found that the switch by many brands and businesses from plastic packaging to alternatives is both confusing consumers and, in some cases, having detrimental effects on the environment.

Green Alliance published the report Plastic promises: What the grocery sector is really doing about packaging last month as part of its work for the Circular Economy Task Force.

Industry insiders interviewed feared that confused consumers might put compostable plastic in with conventional plastic or non-recyclable material, wrongly assuming it will biodegrade in the open environment.

Interviewees also said that by switching from plastic to other materials such as paper bags and compostable or wooden cutlery businesses might, in some cases, actually be increasing their carbon footprint.

The report cautioned that solving the plastic pollution problem without increasing other environmental burdens “will require an approach that tackles wider concerns around unsustainable resource use”.

“It’s a challenge that businesses, government and the whole of society must jointly face. At the sharp end of the current debate are firms, particularly the grocery sector, that use plastic packaging. They are now under great scrutiny, and often public pressure, to stop using the material,” the report added.

This has led to knee-jerk reactions by many businesses who, in some cases, have switched to alternatives without fully evaluating the environmental impact of those alternatives.

Meanwhile, a new infographic published by The Paper Bag, an association of major European manufacturers of kraft paper and paper carrier bags, has stressed the extent to which paper carrier bags contribute to combating climate change. It said “consumers can rely on strong packaging that carries anything up to 12kg, can be reused several times and be recycled [and that] if paper bags end up in the natural setting, they degrade within 2-5 months and do not harm the environment”.