Why can’t we just ban all plastic packaging?


Banning all plastic packaging without finding suitable alternative materials can have unintended consequences. At the moment the problem is that plastic ends up as litter in our oceans, where it causes harm to the environment, or in landfills where its value is lost. The way to stop this happening is to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics.

tomatoes in plastic packaging

Plastic has benefits other material don’t have.

If plastic packaging is banned alternative packaging materials need to be used. Right now, paper, glass, or aluminium can’t perform many of the function’s plastic does:

  • Plastic provides an air, water and hygiene-tight barrier for perishable and easily-damaged goods. This helps prolong shelf life and reduce waste (food waste is a huge contributor to carbon emissions, so this is very important in the fight against climate change). For example, when a cucumber is shrink-wrapped its life is extended by a whopping 15 days. This is crucial because if food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest carbon emitter in the world
  • Plastic weighs less than many of the alternatives, which reduces transport needs, and therefore carbon emissions
  • Plastic helps comply with safety and hygiene standards and protects the products we buy, like medicines
  • Plastic is durable, it doesn’t break like glass, or disintegrate like paper
  • It protects the products it packages
  • Plastic is easy to print information on, such as food labels or allergy warnings
  • It can be moulded into any shape making it easier to use, like milk bottle handles.

Click here to read our answer to “Why can’t we replace plastic with other materials such as glass or paper?

Focus on banning non-recyclable plastic.

Some single-use plastics have a short lifespan, which can be problematic. Unnecessary plastics are already being reduced or replaced by alternatives – things like plastic straws, stirrers and disposable plastic cutlery. The driving force behind this initiative is The UK Plastics Pact, a collaboration between businesses, UK governments and NGOs to create a circular economy for plastics. By 2025, The UK Plastics Pact aims to have 100% of plastic packaging to be re-usable, recyclable or compostable.

In the meantime, we all have a role to play in reducing plastic pollution. By reducing, re-using and recycling we can keep plastic in use for longer, where it has value, rather than throwing it away and causing damage to the environment.

To find out more about what to recycle where you live, visit