1 October 2020 saw the ban of a selection of single-use plastics in the United Kingdom. The ban specifically covers plastic straws and stirrers, as well as plastic-stemmed cotton buds. This comes one month after the announcement that the plastic bag charge would be increased to 10p, commencing April 2021. This forms part of the government’s 25-year environmental plan and, while it is certainly a step in the right direction, Greenpeace has responded saying more needs to be done to make meaningful inroads in this global war against plastic pollution.
THE HARM CAUSED BY SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
Awareness around single-use plastics has grown substantially in recent years. With many plastics being diverted to landfill, leaching toxins into groundwater and ending up in the oceans, it is widely acknowledged that traditional plastic use is environmentally unsustainable. This is especially poignant when one considers that plastic production has more than tripled since the 90s to keep up with a burgeoning ‘throwaway culture’.
The statistics are staggering. The Government reported that the UK uses 4.7 billion tonnes of plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds each year. They have also estimated that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ending up in oceans each year.
Plastic can take thousands of years to decompose. They break down into microplastics, which enter ecosystems (waterways and soil), affecting human and wildlife health and wellbeing. Weighted against its benefits, the risk to human health and marine life has prompted countries around the world to reassess their attitudes to plastic, with bans and tariffs becoming the norm for a growing number of global nations.
BRITAIN’S STANCE ON SINGLE-USE PLASTICS
The government has reiterated its commitment to sustainable waste strategies for many years – and the policies emerging are aimed at achieving the government’s environmental targets. Under Prime Minister May, the aim was to work towards the implementation of recyclable, reusable, and compostable packaging by 2025. The benchmarks include the elimination of avoidable plastic by the end of 2042 and zero avoidable waste by 2050. While the Government has said they are among the vanguards of change on this front, this is a process which demands ongoing work to effect widespread change.
A plastic bag fee was introduced in the United Kingdom in 2015. While this isn’t a complete ban, it is estimated that 15 billion plastic bags were taken out of circulation following the implementation of the initial levy. It has also seen an 86% decrease in the issue of plastic bags during this time. Additionally, research showing reduced beach litter has been attributed to a shift in behaviour by companies, one which moves away from the environmental and reputational repercussions of single-use plastics.
The ban on plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds is welcome news, but anti-plastic lobbyists and organisations continue to push for far-reaching measures around plastics. As environmentally friendly alternatives evolve and become more cost-effective and readily available, so zero tolerance attitudes are fostered. Against the backdrop of raised prices to businesses and consumers as a result of plastic bans, thinking to future trends is an important strategic exercise for commercial operations who may be reliant on traditional plastics in one way or another.
FOLLOWING GLOBAL TRENDS
Full or partial bans on plastics have been observed in 76 countries around the world. While 37 countries have opted to attach a levy to plastic bags, many African countries have imposed full bans. The growing trend, however, centres around compostability. Certain bags in France, Austria, and Italy have been banned and compostable options are required to be used in their place, according to Statista. In addition, China will be banning all non-compostable bags in major cities by the end of the year and throughout the country by 2022.
It is fair to assume that many other nations will follow suit – with these solutions having user-friendly properties and notable benefits for the environment. Compostable alternatives are made from natural resources and decompose into renewables – without the release of harmful toxins or microplastics into the environment.
Some businesses have made pre-emptive changes in anticipation of alterations to plastic policies. Lego and Unilever, for instance, are strategising now for an overhauled approach to plastic by 2025. With clear direction in terms of global anti-plastic trends, this could arguably have an effect on competitiveness, business reputation, and profitability as norms shift to more sustainable, environmentally friendly options.
GOING PLASTIC-FREE IS EASY WITH BONNIE BIO
Bonnie Bio supplies a range of internationally certified compostable, plastic-free alternatives – from bags in a range of sizes to PLA straws and cutlery. Explore the range today to plan a plastic-free tomorrow.