The Last Straw

The 1st October 2020 is another landmark day in the global battle against climate change. Today sees the ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds come into effect in England.

In October 2018 the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launched its consultation in relation to the ban. DEFRA were keen to hear the views of all corners of the economy including manufacturers, re-sellers, users and waste management businesses.

The feedback was clear and the wheels were set in motion. The policy to ban these single-use products only touches on a fraction of the total amount of single-use plastic currently in circulation in the UK, but change has to be made and every step we take counts towards a cleaner, greener society.

DEFRA statistics show that each year our plastic waste includes:

• 5 Billion Straws

• 316 Million Stirrers

• 1.8 Billion Cotton Buds

The original implementation date was set for 1st April 2020 but the Government delayed the start date due to fears that supply chains would not be able to cope whilst we were all experiencing the peak of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Today marks a subtle shift in the psyche for many consumers, many won’t even notice that they are being offered an alternative to single-use plastics.

There’s a lot more work to be done to tackle single-use plastics and their potentially harmful effect on the environment. We’re seeing a rise in single-use plastic PPE equipment. Whilst some of the items may be a necessary evil we have to accept in the short term, this can’t be said for all PPE. One-time use facemasks are readily available to consumers in supermarkets and high street retail stores. Why not reach out to a local small business making reusable fabric masks? Supporting the local economy and having a product you can throw in the wash with the rest of your clothes is surely the best solution?

As we look at the bigger picture, we must address the “green washing” from some of the UK’s leading brands. For example, promoting a fizzy drinks bottle as 100% recyclable sounds fantastic. However, that same product is often manufactured using virgin plastic with no or low levels of recycled content. To create a truly circular economy, these manufacturers must help to close the loop rather than creating a problem and looking for somebody else to take the material and reuse it. From April 2022 Chancellor Rishi Sunak will tax plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content. With taxation set to be £200 per tonne we should now see a major shift from manufacturers to source recycled rather than virgin plastic feedstock.