Single-use plastics are in the spotlight. Businesses, governments and consumers around the world are increasingly awake to the scale of plastic pollution and are joining together to phase them out.
We are on the brink of a crisis. For decades, we have cared little for the impact of our actions on our planet, allowing our water, soil and even the air we breathe to become polluted. Single-use plastics are a part of this problem.
Isn’t plastic recycled?
Plastics production has increased dramatically over the past 50 years and is expected to double again by 2040. Much of the plastic produced is designed to be thrown away after one use, including shopping bags, straws, cups, cutlery and Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), commonly known by the trademark Styrofoam.
Estimates suggest only 9% of the plastic waste the world has ever produced has been recycled. Nine per cent! That’s miniscule when you consider the EU recycling rates for alternative materials like aluminium (78%) and paper (85.7%).
The majority is sent to landfill, and a large proportion escapes collection systems entirely and leaks into the environment.
The need for change
If our current consumption patterns and waste management practices continue, by 2050 there will around 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and the environment.
Most plastics do not biodegrade. Instead they slowly break down into smaller fragments known as microplastics. Studies suggest plastic bags and containers made of EPS foam can take thousands of years to decompose, contaminating soil and water, killing wildlife and destroying ecosystems.
It has been estimated that plastic packaging accounts for about half of the plastic waste in the world. It comprises more than 60% of the waste collected in international coastal clean-up operations and yet still, each year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leaks into the ocean – the equivalent of dumping a refuse truck, full, every minute. Without significant action, scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
We need to find alternatives to single-use, non-recyclable packaging. The longer we leave it, the more difficult it will be for us to reverse the damage we have caused.
Packaging reform is coming
There was a time when businesses could get away with paying lip-service to environmental concerns – talking the talk to avoid walking the walk – but that time has passed.
There is a growing movement of governments, cities, businesses and consumers coming together to fight against plastic waste and pollution, with a particular focus on packaging.
Already, more than 60 countries have introduced bans and levies to curb single-use plastic waste. Packaging reform is an ‘immediate priority’ for the UK Government, which has committed to ensuring all plastic packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, and put the onus on producers to pay for the disposal of packaging they manufacture.
Global brands Unilever, Ikea, L’Oreal, PepsiCo, The Cola-Cola Company, Walmart, John Lewis and Innocent are among those who have pledged to switch to genuinely eco-friendly packaging.
Consumers are demanding more is done too. Research shows people increasingly prefer companies that use eco-friendly, recyclable packaging, and that 74% are willing to pay more for it.
Could the combination of a shift in consumer attitudes and legislative change cause a snowball effect that will finally spell the end of single-use plastics? Change is no longer on the horizon: it is here among us.
Let’s come together – as businesses, as communities – to protect our beautiful planet and preserve it for the generations to come.