The government must act urgently to stamp out the “curse” of single-use plastic sachets, billions of which are helping to fuel the global plastics crisis, campaigners are warning.
A coalition of more than 50 business leaders, politicians and campaigners is demanding that the plastic sachets – used for everything from ketchup to shampoo – be included in European and UK legislation outlawing other “throwaway” items such as plastic straws and cotton buds.
Its findings, published on Wednesday, reveal that 855bn sachets are used every year globally – enough to cover the entire surface of the Earth – and with many thrown away without being opened.
Despite this, sachets have been almost entirely exempt from the broader crackdown on plastic, the campaigners say in an open letter sent to UK newspapers. Sachets are not covered by the EU single-use plastics directive, which is to outlaw a host of throwaway items by 2021.
When Michael Gove was environment secretary, the government announced bans on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England, which will take effect in April. The environment bill 2020, introduced to parliament this month and due for its second reading on Wednesday, seeks to introduce charges for single-use plastic items but fails to regulate sachets.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, which is leading the campaign, said: “In recent years governments and business have gone all out to enforce a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and even bags.
“And yet the plastic sachet, the ultimate symbol of our grab and go, convenience-addicted lifestyle, has been virtually invisible to all. The result? Our Earth is saturated with these uncollectable, unrecyclable, contaminated, valueless little packets. It’s time to close the legal loophole. Now more than ever before we have to sack the sachet.”
The letter has been signed by global campaigners including the UN secretary general’s special envoy for the ocean, Peter Thomson, business leaders such as Iceland Foods’ managing director, Richard Walker, the Time Out group chief executive, Julio Bruno, and the environmentalist Jonathon Porritt.
Virtually never recycled, plastic sachets are typically used to package single-serve portions of liquids and sauces such as ketchup, vinegar and mayonnaise, and are also popular for hand wipes, shampoo, washing powder and face creams.
In an attempt to find an alternative, the UK’s Just Eat chain has recently teamed up with Unilever to pilot Hellmann’s sauces packaged in seaweed-based sachets.