Plastic pollution has made its way to places that only a handful of humans have ever been to, including the top of Mount Everest and the ocean’s depths. A not-so-fun fact!
In England, people use an astonishing 2.7 billion pieces of mostly plastic single-use cutlery and 721 million single-use plates annually. Shockingly, only 10% of these items are recycled. Let’s put this into perspective: if somebody laid all 2.7 billion pieces of cutlery end-to-end, they would encircle the globe more than eight-and-a-half times.
If the current levels of plastic production continue, the resulting emissions will seriously undermine efforts to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C. Most single-use plastics are used for packaging, which is very convenient for consumers but harmful to the environment. It takes hundreds of years to decompose. The drive to phase out single-use plastics in packaging can reduce the amount of waste in landfills and oceans and prevent harm to wildlife.
UK bans most polluting single-use plastic items
From October 2023 the UK government is implementing regulations to encourage businesses and individuals to reduce their use of single-use plastics. Businesses like retailers, takeaways, food vendors, and those in the hospitality industry won’t be able to sell plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, polystyrene cups, and food containers in England anymore. The supply of single-use plastic plates, trays, and bowls will also be restricted. The new regulations were announced in January, and businesses have received guidance throughout 2023 to prepare for the ban.
This ban on single-use plastics is just one aspect of the UK government’s efforts to combat plastic pollution’s detrimental effects and reduce unnecessary plastic waste by 2042.
- Microbeads were banned in rinse-off personal care products in 2018.
- In 2015, the government implemented single-use carrier bag charges. As a result, billions of bags have been removed from circulation.
- The distribution of plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds was limited in 2020.
- In 2022, the government introduced the Plastic Packaging Tax, a tax of more than £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in or imported to the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic.
With all this, there is still so much to do! The government also plan to simplify recycling collections for all households and businesses in England.
If you need more clarification about how the new regulations will impact your company, contact [email protected].
Deposit return scheme
The government also plans to implement a deposit return scheme to recycle more plastic bottles and prevent them from being landfilled, incinerated, or littered. When you purchase a product as part of a deposit return scheme, you pay a little extra for a deposit at the time of purchase. You get that deposit back when you return the item to a specific point.
Every year in Scotland, over two billion drinks are sold in single-use containers. Unfortunately, the recycling rates for these containers are estimated to be around 50%, which is lower than liked. There deposit return scheme has been delayed to 2025 to align with schemes in the rest of the UK. Other systems in Europe like this are achieving great results. Germany is reaching a very high collection rate, including a collection of glass, metal, and plastic.
What did we do before plastic?
It is challenging to imagine a world without plastic. Many of us rely so heavily on it! Plastic has only been in existence for about 115 years, yet it takes hundreds of years to decompose. If you’re making changes within your business, looking at what we did before we used so much plastic could be helpful.
Before plastic bottles, you might remember when glass bottles would be used, returned, washed, and reused. People relied on seasonal produce or made food preserves, stored bulk foods in paper bags, used paper for meat packaging, played with simpler toys made of wood, metal, or rubber, and used glass bottles for shampoo and cardboard boxes for cleaning supplies. Fluids such as paint and car oil were even sold in cans.
People lived with less waste in the past. They reused wherever they could, and now we’re revisiting those practices.
How we can phase out single-use plastics in packaging
A way to tackle the issue of single-use plastics in packaging is to move towards reusable or eco-friendly items instead of relying on single-use, disposable plastic products. This could include:
There has been an increased focus on using paper-based options instead of plastic for food packaging. For example, Nestlé’s KitKat recently tested a paper packaging overhaul. Their Smarties product line introduced recyclable paper packaging for all its confectionery products globally in 2021. Quality Street introduced recyclable paper wrappers in 2022 and said the change after 86 years will keep 2 billion wrappers a year out of landfill.
While paper packaging is not without environmental impact, it is generally considered a better alternative to plastic packaging. Paper is biodegradable, recycled more efficiently, and made from renewable resources. This article explores whether paper alternatives are the best long-term solution over traditional plastic packaging.
The UK government urged innovators to create sustainable packaging in 2018, so consider choosing eco-friendly packaging options. You can choose from various eco-friendly options such as biodegradable packing peanuts, cornstarch packaging, recycled paper and cardboard, and organic fabrics. Remember, the key is to use the smallest amount of packaging necessary.
Natural materials and less toxic, synthetic ones
Using more natural materials are a better alternative to synthetic and toxic materials when combating plastic pollution. Unlike synthetic materials, natural materials decompose easily and do not cause harm to the environment. Additionally, natural materials such as cotton, bamboo, and hemp can be used to make reusable bags, packaging, and other products, which can help to reduce the amount of plastic waste.
Opting for tote bags is an effective way to tackle plastic pollution. Tote bags are usually made from sustainable materials like cotton or canvas. They are often customisable, which is fantastic for brand awareness, and they are durable, saving you money over time.
We highly recommend the Earthaware organic bag for life. It’s made from Control Union certified cotton, and the premium heavyweight fabric ensures durability. It’s versatile; it comes in various colours and can even be customised. If you are after something more durable than this, we love these cotton pocket jute shopper bags with a print-friendly front pocket. The cotton carry handles are comfortable to hold, and you will appreciate how sturdy the bag is. It’s great for carrying a decent amount of shopping.
With even less material than traditional tote bags, the organic cotton mesh grocery bag is popular due to its low price, lightweight, and compactness. This bag is Organic 100 Content Standard certified and Reach certified, ensuring it meets high environmental and safety standards. It’s easy to carry by hand or over your shoulder, holding up to 6kg.
We hope you found this article helpful. As individuals and businesses, taking responsibility and working towards a more sustainable world is vital. With single-use plastics as a thing of the past! In the comments, you can let us know your thoughts or how you are phasing out single-use plastics in packaging.