BBC Put Plastic Packaging In Perspective

BBC shows support for plastic! Shock!

Somewhat surprisingly last week BBC Business News published the following article on its website in support of using plastic particularly for food packaging!

Why surprisingly?

Well, as we are all aware it was the BBC’s Blue Planet II which initiated the current ‘war on plastic’.

Could it be that the powers at the BBC have recognised the adverse consequences of their somewhat distorted reporting about the perils of plastic in the original programme and is it possible that they are now wanting to redress the balance a little to give a more positive view of plastic packaging particularly for food applications, where manufacture of replacement materials create more CO₂ emissions in addition to consuming more of the Earth’s resources than plastic?

For those who missed the original BBC article, an edited version of the key items is as follows.

  • Flexible film developed for wrapping materials was invented in 1904 by Swiss chemist Jacques Brandenberger. He called it ‘cellophane’ and ideally was looking for a waterproof fabric replacement
  • Having achieved some success in developing his new material in 1923 he sold the patent to DuPont
  • Unfortunately, the original ‘cellophane’ whilst waterproof was porous. However, DuPont discovered the addition of a nitrocellulose coating made a flexible film perfect for food packaging, particularly meat, which could now be sold cut, in pre-packed portions without losing its colour and with a longer shelf life
  • As a consequence, sales of meat and other pre-packed food of all types increased dramatically during the 1930’s and 40’s. However, by the 1950’s Dow Chemicals had developed a plastic film for food wrap which was lighter, lower cost and more versatile than ‘cellophane’. This material based on LDPE significantly widened the applications for many other pre-packed products than food
  • Another advantage was that the new LDPE plastic products could also be produced in rigid formats for drink bottles and other semi rigid containers

The article then has a very interesting diagram that explains much about the current problems of separating and recycling the different types of plastic food wrap


  • The article then goes on to highlight the positive effects of plastic in food packaging giving the example of cucumbers, where just 1.5g (0.05oz) of plastic extends the shelf life from 3 days to 14. Less waste.
  • Similar situations occur with less obvious foods such as bananas, potatoes and apples which unwrapped will change colour or in the case of the latter get damaged in transit.
  • Consider the following plastic facts from a Danish Government report. This compares to the much maligned ‘single use plastic bag’ with a supermarket ‘bag for life’. This would need to be used 52 times (every week for a year) to break even environmentally. Whilst a reusable cotton bag needs to be used 20,000 times (every day for 50 years). Otherwise if we don’t have the single use plastic bag we deplete more of the Earth’s resources and generate more CO₂ emissions.
  • A similar UK Government Report claims that due to transit packaging only 3% of food is wasted before it gets to the shops. This figure can be up to 50% in developing countries where no packaging is used


It’s evident that the originator of this article has researched his subject thoroughly and used reliable sources such as Government Reports, Incpen and Harvard Business School and we are delighted the BBC has brought the positive case for the use of plastic packaging for food to a wider audience. The radio article is part of an excellent series by Tim Harford for the BBC World Service, 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. This and the other 49 are well worth a listen.


For those wanting to read the full version please follow this link to the BBC.