You know that sinking feeling that you get when you realise you should of thought of something. Well, that was me on Saturday morning staring at the front page of The Guardian and John Vidal's excellent investigation into some of the adverse environmental implications of bioplastics.
It was the first three paragraphs that did it:
"The worldwide effort by supermarkets and industry to replace conventional oil-based plastic with eco-friendly "bioplastics" made from plants is causing environmental problems and consumer confusion, according to a Guardian study.
The substitutes can increase emissions of greenhouse gases on landfill sites, some need high temperatures to decompose and others cannot be recycled in Britain.
Many of the bioplastics are also contributing to the global food crisis by taking over large areas of land previously used to grow crops for human consumption."
It's all so blindingly obvious when someone spells it out for you isn't it?
The sinking feeling, which I imagine was shared by the marketing and sustainability departments of retailers up and down the UK, was prompted by the sense that I already knew on some level that there were environmental risks attached to these "bioplastics". What Vidal had done so effectively is make those risks plain.
Anyone with even a fleeting interest in environmental science knows that organic matter will release methane as it breaks down and is probably aware that methane is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases. Just as anyone who has any experience of the UK recycling sector, knows that recycling technologies tend to lag far behind the emergence of new types of waste.
Equally, it stands to reason that if biofuels are guilty of taking up land previously used for food crops and inadvertently contributes to deforestation, then any other product that similarly diverts food away from peoples' mouths and increases pressure on agricultural land will have similar effects.
What The Guardian's investigation has done is draw together these facts, and while the bioplastics sector can justifiably claim that it poses a relatively small problem compared to the burgeoning biofuels industry and that work is underway to enhance recycling capacity, the paper is entirely right to have raised these concerns.
The investigation also serves to highlight to corporate risk assessment and due diligence teams everywhere the extent to which many of the unintended consequences that arise from well intentioned green initiatives are in fact surprisingly obvious if you just take a detached look at the bigger picture.
It is always tempting when an exciting new green technology emerges to deploy it as quickly as possible. But as the problems experienced by biofuels and now bioplastics prove, such an approach could leave you repenting at leisure. It is a fact those scientists dallying with climate modifying technologies, algae based biofuels and various other clean technologies would be advised to remember.
In the long run, bioplastics may well prove a sustainable green alternative to conventional plastics, but in the meantime firms would be well advised to make sure they have considered the full environmental impact of using these types of polymers - or else they might just have to get used to that sinking feeling each time someone else points out that their green plastics might not be so green after all.
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