It’s becoming painfully obvious to everyone that plastic is bad news for the planet. Despite being a cornerstone of industry for the last 100 years, we are only just getting to grips with how potentially disastrous our plastic dependence actually is. It affects everything, from life in the oceans to the delicate chemical composition of our atmosphere. Every year, we throw out an estimated 280 million tonnes of the stuff. Only about 20% of our entire production is recycled. Something, clearly, has got to give.
As the situation has become more and more desperate, some big businesses have started to take steps to make a change. Last year, companies across the restaurant sector made headlines around the world when they announced plans to ban plastic straws and move to more sustainable materials. It might only be a drop in the ocean, but it’s a start. Now, following this move, supermarkets in Asia are taking the next step in sustainable packaging, replacing their plastics with an abundant and completely biodegradable material - banana leaves.
Some businesses in Vietnam and Thailand have taken dramatic, progressive steps in their attitude to plastic waste, illustrated by a Facebook post which has since been seen around the world. The picture in question shows the banana leaves being used in the Rimping supermarket in Chiangmai, Thailand, wrapped around produce across the fruit and vegetable section. This is not an isolated incident. It has since been reported that several supermarkets in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi have followed this example, with one chain announcing that, although the current policy is just a “test”, they hope to extend the initiative nationwide.
In fact, a closer look at the sector reveals that Southeast Asia has some incredibly progressive policies when it comes to plastic usage. Thai chain Big C Supermarkets are already using biodegradable bags made from corn, while Singapore are currently running a national campaign encouraging people to give up plastics altogether. Perhaps surprisingly, China has banned “thin” plastics, such as those found in shopping bags, since 2008 - a policy that has helped keep an estimated 40 billion such bags out of the ocean.
Despite the progress typified by examples such as the Thai photo, the evidence suggests that we still have a long way to go. According to Asian news network VN Express, Vietnam currently ranks fourth in the world for plastics dumped into the ocean - an estimated 2,500 tonnes per day. Though the move to banana leaf packaging is a welcome sign, it’s clear to everyone that progress is needed in other areas.
Given the lack of readily available banana leaves in Britain, it’s easy to dismiss this new development as an ineffective solution to a global plastic problem. However, what this case shows us is that by using familiar, natural materials, it’s easier to come up with a solution than you might suppose. Such is the situation in which we find ourselves that shrugging our shoulders is no longer an option. Changes have to be made.