Last week, the English Govt followed Scotland and Wales and placed a ban on single use plastics. This includes single use plastic trays, bowls, polystyrene cups, balloon sticks, and cutlery. This takes effect from October later this year.
When I first heard of said ban, I was overjoyed. After all the work Plentiful (Greater Manchester's first plastic free shop) and Plastic Free Ramsbottom (led by Laura Chepner) did on a local scale, I was so excited to see it become a blanket ban across the country. I was filled with hope.
It seems like finally, the government are taking environmental issues seriously and acting on them. I can only hope that this small gesture extends to the climate crisis and Rishi stops approving coal mines.
Whilst this seems like a logical solution to the plastic problem, it is also important to consider that banning single-use plastics is not the only answer.
As I read through articles into how this affects food businesses - I soon came to realise that there's a lot more to consider.
Food businesses cannot rely on paper. Having had to make the switch myself to home compostable bags for our fruit and snack items which hold more moisture or oil, I had to come to terms with the fact that paper has its limits. As far as I'm aware, there isn't a single paper/card board food packaging product out there that would hold hot food and liquids without a coating of some sort. Now, that needs to be compostable, or biodegradable.
See, the problem with many biodegradable and compostable alternatives is that they are not yet industrially composted in the UK mainstream recycling system, so they end up in landfills, incinerated, and dumped in our natural environment. Without heat and oxygen, they cannot break down.
If you or I was to put a 'compostable' coffee cup in our general waste bin here in Bury, it would be incinerated for energy. Whether it is made from plastic or not does not really matter. If we put it in our brown/food waste bin, it would most likely be removed. The workers separating this waste would not have the foggiest what it's made from. Heck, we probably don't know. I'm definitely not qualified enough to answer how we solve this.
For something that hasn't yet been fully thought out, I feel for the takeaway food industry. The cost of your average disposable coffee cup is less than 1p. A penny. Compare this to 'Vegware' leading biodegradable brand - 18p. That's almost 20 times more expensive. I'm sincerely hoping that inevitably this increase in demand reduces the cost of biodegradable and compostable products on the wider scale, so that they become the norm for all companies to use in all industries. I doubt it'll ever be as cheap as virgin plastic - but I do hope so.
I'm not condemning the ban on single use plastics, not at all. But I can't help but feel like it's a gesture to placate the general public whilst the climate crisis gets worse.
What really needs to happen now, in order to make this gesture result in true sustainable change, is to invest in our waste systems so councils and recycling companies have the infrastructure to industrially compost the alternatives to plastic on a large scale. Otherwise, not much changes.
As it stands, we are switching one waste for another more expensive version.
As an ex-entirely plastic free shop, we believe that part of the solution to tackling the plastic problem is through education and awareness-raising, as well as supporting businesses that are already taking steps to reduce their plastic use.
The main issue with banning single-use plastics is that it does not address the root cause of the problem: our reliance on disposable, single-use products. Instead of banning a few of these items, we need to focus on reducing our overall consumption of plastic and how much we buy overall.
It all comes down to buying less (whilst in a consumerist society).
Banning single-use plastics in the UK is not the solution to the plastic problem, rather it is a step that is needed on a much longer journey.
Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming blog - deciphering what's compostable, what's biodegradable, degradable, recyclable and just plain rubbish.