05 Apr The Final Straw – Single-use plastics
The Final Straw – Single-use plastics
Our commitment & their future
The chain of events that followed the public’s reaction to Blue Planet II were phenomenal, but let’s face it, a public outcry was long overdue.
If you aren’t familiar with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series, it’s highly recommended. The film crew endured year upon year of filming to capture the visual imagery once reserved for explorers and marine biologists. Towards the end of the series, a sad reality was brought to the forefront of our minds – the devastating effects plastics and our throwaway culture have on our oceans and marine life.
Europeans generate approximately 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, less than 30% is collected for recycling. Across the world, plastics make up 85% of beach litter. Plastic bottles take around 450 years to decompose, plastics at landfill take up to 1000 years. If these statistics aren’t enough to shock or highlight the issue at hand, acknowledging the fact China no longer accepts imports of foreign recyclable materials should encourage change.
As of 1st January 2018, China stopped accepting foreign waste. The problem surrounding plastics is no longer out of sight, out of mind. Following China’s implementation of the ban, Europe jumped into action, thinking of practical changes consumers and businesses could make to reduce their impact on our oceans.
The vice-president of the commission, Frans Timmermans, said Brussels’ priority was to clamp down on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again.”
Once Blue Planet II had aired, a flurry of statements were made by British businesses and the government regarding their pledge to alleviate the strain single-use plastics have on the environment. The Queen announced a total ban on plastic straws and bottles at all royal estates! MPs on the environmental audit committee who called for a deposit scheme for plastic bottles – produced another shocking report about the impact of take-out coffee cups. Their proposal – a 25p levy applied to the 2.5 billion cups used each year.
Deposit schemes on plastic bottles and a levy on takeaway cups are needed, but should these changes be focused solely on the end consumer? We agree that changing consumer behaviour is necessary, but what about businesses? Surely, they too need to take responsibility for their role in peddling single-use plastic products.
In October 2015, large supermarket retailers were required to charge 5p for every plastic bag they use. Despite this charge, major retails in England still sold 2.1 billion last financial year. It’s obvious a levy will change behaviour, but it won’t stop use altogether, especially when the supermarkets are still profiting from the sale of plastic bags.
The table below outlines what each supermarket retailer is doing to limit or reduce their usage of plastics. It’s great to see the ‘Big 4’ are taking a proactive approach to addressing this problem. As consumers have become so used to the convenience of modern packaging, changing behaviour is met with resistance. Kantar World panel found in their survey of 5,000 UK consumers that 42% believed food and drink manufacturers should make it their priority to make all their packaging recyclable. Whilst 80% of respondents claimed to use bags for life, less than a third avoided disposable plastic straws or cutlery!
So, what can businesses do to tackle this issue from all sides?
Be transparent – Manufacturers should inform customers about the recyclability of their products. They can then make an informed decision.
Stay trend-focused – Businesses who adapt to change positively are preferred by consumers. Can O water is a fantastic example of a British company whose product is a ‘solution to plastic pollution.’
Start innovating – When thinking about the abundance of materials and technology available to mankind, single-use products and their packaging must be bio-degradable. Evoware is ‘edible packaging,’ a perfect example of a new innovation being used to cut down pollution within the food industry. Let’s hope it’s widely adopted soon.
The other side of the story
On 1st March 2018, The One Show displayed their support for the plastic free challenge and argued for a total ban on all single-use plastics. One month before, the BBC announced their three-step plan to totally remove single-use plastics from operations by 2020.
A total ban on some single-use plastic products is completely justified, but at the other end of the spectrum – they provide benefits other materials cannot. Using plastics can reduce packaging weight in transit, dramatically lowering the number of lorries needed to transport goods on our roads. Replace plastic bottles with glass, more energy would be used resulting in more carbon emissions.
It’s a rock and a hard place situation.
Plastics are extremely hygienic, the Food Standards Agency stated that raw chicken must be placed in a plastic bag to prevent food poisoning. Single-use plastics are essential in the medical industry, alternative materials can harbour bacteria and increase risk of transmitting infection.
Instead of totally banning single-use plastics, improving the availability of recycling points whilst incentivising the return of recyclable plastics will reinforce a behavioural change amongst consumers.
You may ask, what exactly is it that YOU are doing as a product design consultancy?
You’re right, as a product design consultancy who specialise in plastic injection moulding; we understand that the burden of plastics is also on our shoulders. We have a key responsibility to limit the knock-on effect our business has on the environment.
We’re working closely with our clients to identify areas of their product portfolio which require material innovation to bring them more in line with current trends and expectations of social responsibility.