Last week Whitehall announced it was going to ban plastic food bags. The move can’t come too soon and it’s something A Plastic Planet has been campaigning on for years. Here’s why.
Plastic bags are everywhere, yet they have been invisible to us for years despite an environmental disaster. Unrecoverable, non-recyclable, some 855 billion are expelled each year. To put things into perspective, a year of bags measuring some 72 million kilometers, or the equivalent of 189 trips between the earth and the moon. Virtually all plastic bags are destined to pollute our precious natural habitats, where they break down into microplastics, spread everywhere, enter our food chains, and release toxic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals into our soils and waters.
Banning them makes perfect sense. One of the most abundant polluting items in the oceans, the number of sachets produced massively exceeds the items currently in consultation. The government estimates that England uses 1.1 billion single-use plastic plates and 4.25 billion single-use cutlery every year, and while those numbers are staggeringly high, they pale in comparison to the tsunami of sachets in plastic.
But the sachet is not beaten yet. The scope of our addiction to the convenience of those tiny plastic pouches goes beyond ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. The personal care industry is also a major contributor, producing some 122 billion plastic pouches each year, with this sector expected to be the most lucrative end-use market for pouch packaging. Most often, they are used to package product samples such as perfumes, shampoos and detergents to encourage sales of large products. Washing powder and tablets are always sold individually wrapped in plastic bags. These should be next in the hit list.
But extending its ban on plastics to cover pouches in the food sector is a good start, and while industry may push back on the proposal, the government must stand firm. The industry has proven time and time again that it can adapt to change. The pandemic is an example of this, showing how the food and retail sectors can change their ways to work with a new normal. And with a host of readily available alternatives, from paper and pulp to emerging nature-safe materials, touching the plastic bag shouldn’t be a major stumbling block.
By tackling unnecessary plastics that are destroying the planet, the government can show it means business. This may force the industry to rethink the way it uses the material, pushing it towards more environmentally friendly alternatives that won’t have a lasting impact on the planet. This can lead to a shift in consumerism, where we consider the lasting impact a product has on our planet; where we consider the actual cost of the materials we use and the products we buy instead of their convenience.
2022 cannot be another year of dithering and delays in tackling the plastic crisis. We must move forward. The government must maintain a firm stance that the scourge of plastic bags cannot continue. He should seek to attack all sachets, including produced by the personal and home care industry rather than drip legislation. The industry needs to know about the new plastic guardrails and this inch-by-inch randomization is confusing everyone.
By dismissing the bag, the government has the opportunity for a world first. But there’s still a lot of work to do if they want to make 2022 the year they truly commit to turning off the plastic tap. This is a very good start.
Sian Sutherland is co-founder of A Plastic Planet, a global solutions organization with one goal: to challenge and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap. In 2019, A Plastic Planet launched Sack the Sachet – a campaign to end the billions of plastic bags that pollute the environment each year.
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