Is there life after plastic? The new inventions promising a cleaner world

As the backlash against plastic waste grows, industry is replacing and redesigning single-use products, from recyclable bottles to biodegradable film

Plastic collected by Wastesavers community recycling group from households in Newport South Wales Gwent UKACMD4B Plastic collected by Wastesavers community recycling group from households in Newport South Wales Gwent UK
 Plastic collected by Wastesavers community recycling group from households in Newport South Wales Gwent UK
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Barely a day goes by without a new anti-plastic initiative: the Dutch supermarket with a plastic-free aisle; the Bali inhabitants sweeping the island for jetsam, the moves to get plastic out of teabags – and even out of Lego. And that was all just this week.

But can we – or should we – aim to move beyond plastics altogether? What are the alternatives to a material that has dominated packaging for 70 years? Promising new technologies are vying for attention, but plastic is so ubiquitous – and so useful – that it will not simply disappear.

Rob Opsomer, systemic initiatives lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation believes that 50% of plastic packagings could be recycled if they, or after-use systems, were better designed, and 20% could be tackled by reuse schemes. However about 30% of plastics need a fundamental rethink to prevent them ending up in landfill.

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