New research has unpacked some unintended negative impacts of plastic recycling. According to Cambridge University Press, recycled and reused plastics used for food contact can spread dangerous chemicals including benzene, formaldehyde and heavy metals.
The study concludes that hazardous chemicals can accumulate in recycled material and contaminate foodstuffs for human exposure. This is especially concerning when recycled plastics are used for food packaging and food-related products, such as cutlery and water bottles. Over 850 chemicals were identified in PET recycled plastic including potential toxins such as lead and ethylene, and can increase in contamination with prolonged use of recycled plastic products. The study shows further concern in difficulty of distinguishing virgin and recycled materials.
The research concludes that the best solution for the ever-worsening plastic pollution problem is for companies to reduce the use of plastics altogether and consumers to avoid plastic as much as possible.
Agriculture’s deforestation pressures
A new report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation demonstrates the deforestation impacts of agriculture. The study compares the impacts of smallholder farmers and large-scale agriculture and has found that, in the period 2000-2018, most of the forest converted to cropland and grassland was down to small-scale farming, accounting for 68% of agriculture-driven deforestation, with 32% caused by large-scale farming. In total, agriculture accounted for almost 90% of deforestation, more than had previously thought to be the case. Small-scale cropland conversion accounted 71% and small-scale livestock grazing accounted for 64% of deforestation. There was significant regional variation – small-scale farming accounting for 97% of agriculture-driven deforestation in Africa but only 52% in South America, for example.
Small-scale farming was defined for the study as being activity applying non-industrial methods and low technology production processes, over limited areas, and for which the labour force is the main production investment. Large-scale farming is defined as activity that does apply industrial and higher technology production processes, extending over a large area and involving significant capital investment on machinery or infrastructure. The research was undertaken using a remote sensing and sampling approach and the study offers some practical solutions, including using Earth Observation technology, that can help lessen deforestation impacts.
Mars bar trialling recyclable paper packaging
Mars decided to ditch their plastic-packaged Mars bar to trial paper wrappers in the UK. The nationwide trial of the new recyclable paper packaging will be available at 500 Tesco stores for a limited time. This is part of Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation
plan, a science-based scheme that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals. Mars has said that it is investing millions of pounds in redesigning thousands of types of packaging, with the goal of reducing its use of virgin plastics by one-quarter and increasing recycled plastic usage in its packaging.
Mars bar gained carbon neutrality status earlier in 2023, certified by SCS Global. The status was achieved through carbon credits and actual carbon emission reductions, and claims to enable 200m bars per year carbon neutral in the UK, Ireland and Canada. This initiative follows Nestlé in adapting to more sustainable packaging options: Quality Street swapped in foil and plastic wrappers for recyclable paper in 2022 and KitKat bars are now wrapped in 80% recycled plastic packaging.
CDP calls for 1,600 high-emitting companies to disclose data
Non-profit disclosure platform CDP has launched a campaign to encourage over 1,600 major companies, including industry giants Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, Glencore, Volvo, and Tesla, to disclose their environmental data through CDP's reporting platform. The campaign is supported by nearly 290 financial institutions representing $29tn in assets, amid increasing investor demands for detailed information on climate risks and initiatives.
The targeted companies emit an estimated 4,200 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, a number similar to the greenhouse gas emissions of the UK, EU, and Canada combined. The campaign seeks to enhance transparency and understanding of these companies' environmental impacts. CDP notes the importance of data for financial institutions to track net zero goals alignment and unlock sustainability-linked opportunities, therefore can act as a safeguard and boost long-term profitability.
With stricter financial reporting rules being implemented globally, this campaign aims to drive greater transparency, improve risk management practices, and promote sustainability in capital markets.