Ocean Conservancy released the results of the 2019 International Coastal Clean-up, revealing that for the first time in ICC history, cigarette butts were displaced as the number-one-reported debris item along beaches and waterways worldwide. Instead, food wrappers topped the list, with 943,195 volunteers removing a record 4,771,602 food wrappers in a single day. Food wrappers – a category consisting of crisp packets, sweet wrappers, drink pouches and similar flexible packaging – are usually made of plastics. Because they are often low-density and composed of multiple layers of plastics and other materials, these items are effectively un-recyclable.
Food wrappers are uniquely challenging from an environmental stewardship perspective because they are difficult, if not impossible, to recycle, and yet there are few comparable alternatives. It is time for food science and packaging experts to accelerate research and development of packaging that isn’t destined for landfills, and that keeps both people and our ocean safe and healthy.