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A recent survey conducted by Yonder has revealed that 71% of the public want to see more plastic products banned, with the same proportion concerned that plastic bottles, tubs and trays do not get recycled into new plastics.
In response, environmental group A Plastic Planet has launched The Reduce, Refill and Replace Revolution as a ready-made strategy for ministers to make the UK a world leader in removing plastic from packaging.
While the government recently introduced the Plastic Packaging Tax which charges companies £200/ tonne for any plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic, according to campaigners this is not creating the change we need to tackle plastic pollution.
The report from A Plastic Planet condemns plastic as “materially unsuited to single-use applications” and demands a range of new single-use plastic bans as early as 2024, including plastic sachets, bags, pots, single-use bottles, and fruit and vegetable wrapping.
But what would this kind of ban look like, and how would it affect small businesses?
The case for new legislation
The general consensus from the environmental sector is that current laws don’t go far enough, and new legislation is needed to address the plastic problem.
Catherine Conway, owner of Unpackaged and plastic campaigner, explained, “The Plastics Tax has really only just come into force, and whilst it is an improvement, it is still not creating the pace we need to tackle the overwhelming problem of plastic pollution.
“The evidence shows that the current reliance on voluntary agreements to create change is not having the desired effect (less than 5% of global brands’ packaging portfolios are reusable or refillable, meaning over 95% is still single-use, which is overwhelmingly fossil fuel plastic based.
“Using a ‘Polluter Pays’ framework, we need a suite of legislation and taxation under the banner of Extended Producer Responsibility to kick start the necessary change.”
In fact, according to Sian Sutherland, founder of A Plastic Planet, “The last five years of snail-paced plastic reduction have shown us that it is too hard for the industry to do this alone. The government has the capacity to move the market by simply outlawing the use of plastics where viable alternatives already exist, and to catalyse the innovations that will replace other plastics in future.”
This is something Megan Adams, owner of Re:Store Refill in Hackney, also agrees with. “Our recycling systems cannot cope with the current volumes of waste being put through, and it’s not acceptable for the UK to continue dumping waste on other countries. In order to really solve the root of the problem, we simply need to reduce the production of plastic.
“The UK has learnt from the successful implementation of the plastic bag charge, that actions such as taxes, charges, and bans are needed to actively influence customer behaviour when it comes to unnecessary single-use plastic. Other countries have already tackled fruit and vegetable wrapping, sachets and other packaging types listed, all of which are prevalent on products in the UK.
“From a producer perspective, legislation is needed to ban these single-use plastics, otherwise, producers trying to reduce their impact by using alternative materials are at a competitive disadvantage incurring more costs for sustainable materials. This legislation is needed now, in 2024 or even earlier”, she added.
What would a crackdown on plastics look like?
For Megan, “The starting point would be to ban the production of unnecessary plastics, particularly products where there is already a sustainable disposable alternative or a widely used reusable option.
“If all producers and companies were forced to use sustainable materials, the price of those materials would dramatically reduce making it more commercially viable. The government can also direct more support and funding for innovations that replace plastics in key use cases, and support research into new materials, as well as projects and companies promoting refill and reuse.”
But Catherine warns that any new legislation needs to be thought out carefully. She added, “We 100% support A Plastic Planet’s aims to ‘turn off the plastic tap’, especially in terms of consumer packaging. However, we need to think carefully about materials – I would argue that we should try and phase out most single-use but there may be applications (e.g., supply chain packaging) where reusable plastic is the best material (as evidenced by life cycle analysis).”
The effect on small businesses
Part of A Plastic Planet’s plan involves requiring big businesses to dedicate floor space to zero waste and refillable products. What would this mean for indies already championing plastic-free?
Megan explained, “To solve the plastics crisis and affect widespread behaviour change, large corporations need to be offering refill and reuse options in order to take it to the mass market.
“Independent businesses have a place in industries where there is heavy competition from large corporations, think of cafés, restaurants, bookshops. We believe zero waste independent businesses like Re:Store have a competitive edge by being able to offer personal connections, a guarantee that all the products are sourced with the highest ethical standards, as well as hyperlocal products.
“By choosing to shop with independents, spending goes directly back into the local economy, supporting the creation of local jobs and communities.”