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Using social media to answer consumer questions about plastics

By: PRW

April 17, 2014

Plastic packaging was stoutly defended on a recent Q&A session on social media site Twitter, run jointly by the British Plastics Federation and science education charity Sense About Science.

Questions were invited from the “Twittersphere” on a range of plastics packaging-related issues and were answered by Katherine Fleet, environment and sustainability manager at packaging group RPC and by Professor Alan Boobis of Imperial College London.

One questioner asked who funded research “showing that certain plastic packaging is safe?”

Boobis replied that research did not show that certain plastics packaging was safe, rather it generated data “from which such a conclusion can be reached.”

It was funded “from a variety of sources, both public and private,” he added.

A number of Twitter users wondered why so much packaging was necessary, particularly with items such as fruit and vegetables.

Katherine Fleet said that “contrary to popular belief fruit and vegetables are packaged in order to protect them through the supply chain.

“This ensures it reaches the consumer in as fresh and nutritious a condition as possible. At home the original packaging also helps extends the life of the food.”

Asked what steps the industry was taking to reduce the amount of packaging being used, Fleet said it was constantly being made lighter.

“If plastics were not used in packaging and other materials were used instead, then waste and energy consumption would double and weight and costs would quadruple.”

Plastic packaging provided a lightweight, low carbon and energy efficient solution for the packaging of products, she added.

Many questioners homed in on the debate surrounding bisphenol A (BPA) and expressed concerns about the risks to human health from packaging containing the material.

Asked why the United Kingdom did not ban BPA from food containers, yet France had done so, Boobis said “risk assessors in France had interpreted a number of studies to suggest there may be harmful effects at levels lower than those shown in studies used previously to establish acceptable exposure levels.

“However, this interpretation is not shared by assessors in other authorities such as EFSA or in the UK. Hence, the difference in regulatory decisions.”

Sense About Science has compiled the entire Twitter session on one web page.