These days — especially in sustainability circles — it seems impossible to avoid hearing about the massive problem that is plastic pollution, and what we can do to address it. In the past two weeks alone, there have been announcements from public, non-profit and private organizations alike, such as the European Commission, City of Vancouver, Zero Waste Scotland, and Hilton. It’s great to see, but before we declare that we’re “winning the war” on plastic waste, we need to take it one battle at a time.
Yesterday, the European Commission put forward a proposal for a total ban on ten single-use plastic products and fishing gear that together account for 70 percent of the marine litter in Europe.
Subject to approval by EU governments, the new rules would ban plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons entirely, requiring them to be made with “more sustainable materials.” Member states will be required to reduce the use of plastic food and beverage containers, such as by ending their free-of-charge distribution. They will be obligated to collect 90 percent of single-use plastic drink bottles by 2025, such as by implementing deposit refund schemes.
Extended producer responsibility measures will be put in place as well. Producers will be required to help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up as well as initiatives to raise awareness for proper disposal of a variety of plastic items. However, the industry will also be rewarded with incentives to develop “less polluting alternatives” for those products.
The Commission is encouraging the European Parliament and Council to adopt the proposals before the elections in May 2019.
The City of Vancouver has taken the issue into its own hands as the first city in the world to approve a comprehensive strategic plan to achieve zero waste. Zero Waste 2040 is intended to guide future decisions and investments relating to solid waste and provides a framework to continue the work of current related policies and programs. The city aims to conserve resources, prevent waste, compost inedible food or covert it into fuel, and extend product lifespans through repair, maintenance, sharing, reuse and refurbishment before recycling them.
Zero Waste 2040 is accompanied by a Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy, which includes priority actions, including a ban on the distribution of polystyrene foam cups and containers and plastic straws that will take effect on June 1, 2019.
According to the city, every week 2.6 million plastic-lined paper cups and 2 million plastic bags are thrown in the garbage in Vancouver. Cups and take-out containers make up about 50 percent of all items collected in public waste bins and plastic straws and stir sticks make up about 2 percent of shoreline litter in Vancouver. Despite their convenience, it costs Vancouver taxpayers $2.5 million a year to collect these items from public waste bins and to clean up as litter.
Meanwhile, Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) has launched a £1 million fund for proposals to cut packaging. Using the example of a new plastic-free shop that was supported with £100,000 in funding, the organization announced that it is making £1 million in total funding available for businesses in the region with ideas for reducing single-use packaging.
The shop, called Locavore and located in Glasgow’s Southside, sells a variety of ‘fill your own’ items such as cooking herbs, oil, vinegar, nuts, snacks, household cleaning products, locally-made herbal shampoo, and milk in refillable glass bottles. The £100,000 ZWS contributed to help open the brand-new store was supported by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund (EDRF), resulting in the attendance of Warren McIntyre of ZWS and Cabinet Secretary for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham at the store’s opening yesterday.
“It was fantastic to visit Locavore to launch its new range of packaging-free goods and see for myself how customers can come back again and again for essential items, thanks to the use of refillable containers. My parents used to live in this area and would have loved this shop and its products which are all locally-sourced,” said Cunningham.
“It’s ideas like this that are at the heart of the Scottish Government’s Making Things Last Strategy, which looks to develop our circular economy and protect our environment by keeping products in use as much as possible.”
McIntyre took the opportunity to announce ZWS’s new fund. Businesses with “a strong, workable idea” for reducing single-use packaging – whether with customers or other businesses – that could benefit from advice or funding are encouraged to reach out to ZWS.
“Zero Waste Scotland has worked with Locavore to help flag up areas where the store could cut packaging and provided advice and funding to help them introduce these new packaging-free options for customers. I’m really excited to see this in action in the brand-new shop,” McIntyre said.
“Shoppers are increasingly concerned about single-use packaging which is often not, or can’t be, recycled. While packaging has a role to play in ensuring food and other products reach consumers in good condition, businesses such as Locavore show that it can be reduced – and that’s extremely popular with shoppers.
“The best way for businesses to take action then is to help reduce the amount of packaging we’re all using,” McIntyre concluded. “That’s why Zero Waste Scotland is looking for more ideas from businesses to help cut single-use packaging in Scotland. We have funding and support available which could make your plans a reality – so get in touch.”