Rachael Rothman who gave evidence about plastic waste to EFRA

Our co-director gives evidence to EFRA plastic waste committee

Our co-director Rachael Rothman gives evidence to EFRA about plastic waste.

Rachael spoke at UK Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee about the move towards zero ‘avoidable’ plastic waste. Currently, the UK Government has a target to eliminate all such plastic waste in the next 20 years.

The inquiry scrutinised the Government’s ambition and asked whether current measures on plastic waste go far enough. Plus they looked at alternatives to plastic consumption. Rachael was one of 8 experts on plastic and sustainability who gave evidence.

Alternative plastics

First Rachael was asked about compostable, oxodegradable, and biobased plastics. Drawing attention to issues such as what they’re made of, where the energy comes from to make them and their life cycles, Rachael cautioned against assuming they’re more sustainable. For instance, if it takes years for a type of biobased plastic to break down, then it could cause the same types of pollution that traditional plastic does.

However, Rachael also said there’s potential for alternative plastics to reduce our carbon footprint. If we could make a durable material using bio sources then we could effectively sequester carbon into a product.

If you want to know more, then you read a summary of evidence we gave previously about alternative plastics. Read: Grantham Centre experts call for 3 new standards for bio-based, biodegradable & compostable plastics.


Reusable packaging could be a way to use plastics – and alternative plastics – more sustainably. Asked about reuse, Rachael outlined our research into reuse schemes and public willingness to use them.

In traditional return and reuse schemes a customer returns packaging and a producer refills it, e.g. milk bottles. Here the customer has little to do but these schemes can’t work for everything. Some types of reuse require more customer engagement, such as where you keep the packaging to reuse it yourself e.g. reusable coffee cups.

In this second type of reuse, it is important that people are up for reusing items. It is not just that a container can be reused that matters, but if it will be. Recent research by our team shows that most people prefer items to look new if they are going to reuse them. For instance, they don’t want marks from previous use to show.

So, as Racheal explained, if we want more reuse, we have a choice about how to address this evidence about willingness. Do we make reusable products that will always look new? Or should we try and change public perception about worn looking items? Find out more about this research on our Many Happy Returns project page.


When producing any type of plastic, the source of energy used is important. In order to be sustainable, Rachael stressed we need more renewable sources of energy.

Watch the full committee online

You can watch the full committee here. Rachael starts at about 14:59.

Rachael’s plastic research at the Grantham Centre

Rachael’s work focuses on the development and analysis of sustainable processes. She is a professor of sustainable chemical engineering at the University of Sheffield. Rachael leads on life cycle assessment for our special plastics project Many Happy Returns.

Wondering what life cycle assessment is? Read: What is life cycle analysis?

Get a summary on Twitter

Have a look at this brilliant thread about Rachael’s evidence. It not only summarises her key points, but includes snippets of video from the EFRA committee.