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Plastic and the Prince

When you got your lunch today – did it come in a plastic tray?

What about your ready meal tonight? Or your pack of chicken breasts?

After the debate over plastic bottles – and about take-away coffee cups – the Prince of Wales on Monday drew attention to the way in which plastic is used in the food industry.

On a production line at a food processing plant in Lincolnshire, we watched as hundreds of tubs of pasta salad were packed into clear plastic trays and dispatched to Co-op stores across the country.

On another line, two hard boiled eggs and a layer of spinach were being packed into small plastic pots.

Only one in three of these tubs and trays will be recycled.

Which is why plastic packaging accounts for 70% of all plastic waste.

Only a third of plastic food packaging is recycled. Credit: ITV News

Nearly 2.3 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste is produced in the UK every year.

Prince Charles was at the factory in Boston on a day of engagements in Lincolnshire.

Before David Attenborough showed in his TV series, Blue Planet II, the devastating impact of plastic waste on our oceans, the Prince of Wales was campaigning to cut our addiction to single use plastic.

You can watch here what he told ITV News about the problem in October.

On Monday, the Prince was shown some solutions for the future: corn starch packaging, thinner plastic, more recyclable trays.

But as he told staff at Freshtime UK, the difficulty was finding “the balance between convenience and reducing plastic waste”.

Plastic packaging accounts for 70% of all plastic waste. Credit: ITV

Freshtime, which supplies the Co-op, Asda, Boots and some coffee chains, has cut its use of plastic by 100 tonnes per year and plans to use only recyclable plastic and packaging by 2022.

Trays made from corn starch are good enough to transport food and keep it fresh, but unlike clear plastic, as the boss Steve Evans explained to us, it does not allow customers to see what’s inside.

But just as the debate around coffee cups is starting to have an impact on the behaviour of consumers, so the focus might now turn to the food industry.

And as this is a subject area close to his heart, Prince Charles showed he is one step ahead.

What about using trays made from tomato stalks, he asked.

So when you unpack your dinner tonight from a plastic tray, it’s worth thinking what that tray might look like in the future.

Tomato stalks might sound far-fetched, but in this field, the Prince of Wales has proved people wrong before.