Plastic Update August 2019

  • 9th August 2019

The news

There has been incredible news regarding plastic bags recently after data was released that plastic bag use has fallen by 90% since the plastic bag tax was imposed in 2015, when the average person would use roughly 140 plastic bags a year. The big 7 supermarkets alone sold 490 million fewer bags in the 2018/19 period than in 2017/18.

This is a huge leap in the world of plastic use reduction and shows the difference that can be made. Imposing a charge to something like a plastic bag makes people think if they really need it rather than just grabbing for them by the handful.

Another positive impact of the bag tax that is often forgotten is, what happens to the money raised through bag sales? Well, according to Gov.uk supermarkets alone donated over £66 million to good causes such as; local charities or funds, research, education, heritage, environmental aid and healthcare. This means 4p out of every 5p is donated to good causes.

However, there are still advances that need to be made for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) who are currently exempt from charging this 5p tax. The system for SMEs is that they can charge for plastic bags on a voluntary basis, due to regulations to avoid imposing new requirements onto smaller businesses. However reportedly only 1/5 were choosing to do that in 2018 showing that change needs to be made in the mentality of business owners,

Other moves towards “plastic free”

It is positive to see that the government is behind the plastic reduction movement and they have made other steps since the 5p bag tax to reduce plastic use. In June 2018 (October 2018 for Northern Ireland) the UK banned the sale- and then later production, of microbeads (tiny plastic balls used in exfoliants, toothpastes and non-prescription medicines). Due to their small size they would pass through sewage filtration systems and make their way to rivers and waterways. This has led to cosmetics companies searching for natural more environmentally friendly alternatives. We are now seeing big cosmetic companies using natural ingredients like sugar, nut shells and perlite in their face scrubs, having a positive impact on our plastic use.

Looking Forward

Earlier this year, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced that there are plans to make producers responsible for the sustainability of their packaging. If the recycled content of the packaging does not reach the desired threshold, they will be required to pay a large tax on that packaging.

Producers of plastic products will also be responsible for the littering of their products and will be required to label their product such that it points out the negative impact of not disposing of the product in the correct way.

Looking forward there has been massive progress made by the EU laying out concreate plans to reduce plastic over the next ten years. From April 2020 there will be an EU wide ban on single use plastics such as straws, cotton buds and cutlery. We are already seeing the cogs in motion for this transition with many fast food outlets and bars making the switch to paper straws or not providing straws at all. And takeaway restaurants have begun to opt for recyclable alternatives to their plastic containers.

There will also be a big shove towards plastic packaging containing recycled materials and being recycled. By April 2022 all plastic packaging must contain a minimum of 30% recycled materials to avoid hefty taxing. There’s also a target of 90% plastic bottle collection by 2029, whereby, businesses and councils will have collection stations where plastic items like bottles can be recycled, where they can be properly disposed of.

However, we must consider what is actually happening to the plastic we recycle, because recycling is good for the planet isn’t it? Well that is what I, and the majority of the nation think. We’re doing out bit by putting our bottles and plastic packaging in the green box. But it has been revealed that a lot of UK recycling is being shipped to the other side of the world to illegal landfills not being recycled, creating a huge environmental and health problem for the local population to those countries.

The new government legislation and movements towards a plastic free Britain are really positive, showing that people in power are behind the cause and are using their authority to promote good causes to actively protect the planet.

However, it is clear that there are still changes that need to be made. We need to help out SMEs so that they can enforce the new environmental legislation rather than just making them exempt due to their size. We also need to take responsibility for our own recycling! We cannot expect smaller poorer countries than ourselves to take on our rubbish- to the detriment of their own population; when we have the capability to recycle our waste. We are well on the way to a plastic free UK, but we need to pull our fingers out if we’re really going to make a long term difference.