Have we reached ‘peak plastic’? It feels like momentum is building on the issue of plastic waste in the environment. Across Europe, new laws and policies are being proposed or enacted, from plastic bottle deposit and return schemes, to bans and charges on single-use plastic bags, to phasing out non-compostable plastic cups, plates, and cutlery. Will these proposals make a difference? Or is it too little, too late?
In the United Kingdom, the BBC documentary “Blue Planet II” shocked viewers with its footage of plastic-clogged oceans and the impact on marine life. Even industry bodies accept that plastic waste is an issue, and want to see more recycling and sustainable use of plastics.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in about plastic waste from one of our long-time readers, Paul X, who put it like this: “Currently most fruit or veg either comes pre-packed in plastic or the supermarkets provide little bags to put it in. So when someone leaves the store with their shopping they have a plastic bag full of smaller plastic bags with the produce in. Why does it need two layers of plastic?”
In reply to Paul, we also had a comment from Sophie, who wonders whether plastic packaging really contributes to a lot of plastic waste. She says that when she walks around her city of Glasgow, she sees a lot of plastic bags, bottles, and cans, but hardly any supermarket plastic packaging. So, is it really such a big deal?
To get a response, we put Sophie’s comment to Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe. How would he react?
For another perspective, we also spoke to David Baker, Packaging Division Chairman at European Plastics Converters. What was his take?
I think Sophie raises an absolutely excellent point, there. The reality is that there is a lot of plastic waste around in the environment, and that is something which I’m concerned about as a citizen, but I’m also concerned about from an industry perspective as well.
So, she’s right, if you look at the waste that’s around – and therefore the waste that’s in the environment – that tends not to be the sort of packaging that you would find in a supermarket. Because supermarket packaging gets taken home, you take the goods out of the packaging, the packaging has then done its job – it’s delivered the goods to you in a very good condition – and nine times out of ten you dispose of that packaging in your household rubbish, whatever system you have (it might be curbside collection) but you would dispose of that within your home, and it tends not to get littered in the environment…
We also put the same comment to Dianna Cohen, CEO and Co-Founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition. What would she say? Does plastic packaging really contribute to a lot of plastic waste?
Absolutely. [Studies have shown] that plastics’ largest market is packaging, an application whose growth was accelerated by a global shift from reusable to single-use containers, starting in the 1950s. We need a return to reuse over ‘disposable’ plastic.
It’s awesome that you are paying attention to the plastic pollution you see in your neighborhood. I encourage all of you to keep paying attention, and use the app Litterati, a PPC member, to record the plastic pollution and other litter you see around you. This will help us see the brands that are the biggest polluters and hold them accountable for the products they create…
Next up, we had a comment sent in by Suitboy, who wonders if the best approach is to “nudge” the public, or to “shove” them. He argues that charging money for plastic bags would be an example of a “nudge”, but adds that a significant reduction in plastic may require more of a shove; for example an outright ban on plastic packaging. Is he right?
How would Dianna Cohen from the Plastic Pollution Coalition respond?
We need both nudges and shoves to solve the plastic pollution problem. We need individual people to change their behaviour, businesses to take responsibility for all the waste they create, and government to enact new laws to protects our waterways, oceans, and environment.
How would Joan Marc Simon from Zero Waste Europe respond?
Finally, how would David Baker from the European Plastic Converters respond?
[…] If there is an intervention by the EU in the form of a charge, levy, whatever it may be, what’s the end game? If the end game is to generate more money so that we can invest in better infrastructure, so that we can invest in action itself, then I am all for it. If the charges and levies are there to just generate more money for the general budget of that country or for the EU, then I’m not in favour of it, because that’s just another tax, and I think the monies should be directed clearly towards solving the problem.
In terms of ‘shoving’ or ‘nudging’, I don’t believe that bans are going to be at all practical, and I don’t think anybody that I’m aware of in any of the legislative bodies believe in bans. We live in a society where plastic packaging is an inherent part of what we do every day. It has a great number of very positive uses in extending shelf-life, allowing us to shop infrequently, delivering choice, letting us buy products from all over the world in a very fresh and pristine condition, and therefore banning is probably not the way to go forward.
Even banning some of the items that are not packaging – there’s things like plastic straws being talked about, stirrers, and plastic cutlery – I’m not in favour of banning any of those things, and I don’t think that there’s a lot of legislators that are in favour of banning those things. I may be proved wrong on that. But I do think that something needs to be done about these items, and I’m not against some form of charging, as long as – as I said – the money goes to the right place, and actually goes towards solving the issue, and reducing the amount of plastic in the environment.