Plastic News

We give an update on what companies are doing to get rid of single use and non-recyclable plastic, and tips for how to avoid plastic in your life.

Government dragging its feet over plastic bottle scheme

In March, Greenpeace activists took a message in a 29-foot bottle to Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to tell him to give people what they want: a strong deposit-return scheme (DRS).

Every year in the UK alone, 5.5 billion plastic bottles aren’t recycled, and many of these end up in landfill or the oceans.

We’ve all seen footage of marine-animals with stomachs full of plastic. A DRS is a simple and effective way of reducing this. 

Image: 29 foot plastic bottle made of recycled bottles being carried by plastic free campaigners drs it reads michael gove on the side
Greenpeace campaigners march the 29 ft bottle to Michael Gove in protest against single-use plastic. The huge sculpture was made up of 2,500 plastic bottles that had been collected from streets, river banks and beaches around the UK by volunteers.

When you buy a drink you pay a tiny bit extra, which you get back when you return the container – so it’s guaranteed to be collected for recycling. It’s so effective, some countries with DRS have seen up to 95% recycling rates.

But in the UK there’s the talk of a weak, watered-down DRS that doesn’t cover all drinks containers - thanks to corporate lobbyists not wanting to pay for their own waste. The scheme may only target drinks of less than 750ml, intended to be consumed on the go, rather than all plastic and glass bottles as well as cans, irrespective of their size.

Make sure Michael Gove doesn’t lose his bottle – email him.

Bread bag recycling scheme launched across UK

A new initiative has been launched by Hovis and TerraCycle to encourage people to recycle the plastic bags that bread is sold in.

The Bread Bag Recycling Programme will create a network of bread bag recycling points with schools, charities and community groups. The plastic bread bags will then be turned into public benches and outdoor furniture. See the dog food guide for more on TerraCycle’s involvement in recycling pet food sachets.

Consumers can either register as a private collector and post collected bread bags to TerraCycle or locate a community collection point using a map on the TerraCycle website.

Only one in ten local authorities currently recycle bread plastic bags, according to Recoup. Most bread bags can also be recycled through the plastic bag collection points at larger supermarkets, but these are not being used to their full potential, maybe because consumers don’t realise they can recycle there.

Laure Cucuron, general manager for TerraCycle Europe, said:

 “Bread is a product that is consumed by many families on a daily basis so there is significant scope to alter consumer behaviour and to encourage people to recycle used bread bags.”

“Hovis is helping to lead the agenda for the bread industry and we hope to see more brands and industries making moves in the same direction.”

A better solution could be that manufacturers alter their behaviour and don’t sell bread in plastic bags, or there is some sort of refill scheme. A more sustainable option available now is to buy your bread unpackaged from your local baker.

M&S trials plastic-free fruit and veg

Marks and Spencer is launching a trial of 90 lines of plastic-free loose fruit and vegetables.

“M&S were ranked fourth out of the ten biggest supermarkets when Greenpeace assessed their plans to tackle plastic waste, so it’s encouraging that M&S is now being more ambitious when it comes to reducing its plastic footprint. 

“M&S must now go further and introduce plastic-free fruit and vegetable lines in all stores nationwide, and we urge other supermarkets to follow suit.” Elena Polisano, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

Checking out on plastics

Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency have released a major new league table ranking of how supermarkets are addressing plastic pollution. 

They surveyed the top UK supermarkets and grocery convenience store chains and found that just 10 supermarkets collectively put more than 810,000 tonnes of plastic on the market each year. This is in addition to more than 1.1 billion single-use plastic bags, 958 million bags for life and 1.2 billion plastic produce bags for fruit and veg.

There is also a shortage of plans in place to stem the flood. Most commitments made by supermarkets are weak, with room for improvement even among survey leaders – Iceland and Morrisons.

Image: Greenpeace League Table

The league table found that:

  • Five supermarkets have no specific targets to reduce plastic packaging – Aldi, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. And of the supermarkets that do have targets, most are moving at such a slow pace that it would take them 20 years to completely rid their shelves of throwaway plastic.  
  • Iceland has the most ambitious reduction targets aiming to get rid of all plastic packaging of its own brands by 2023.
  • Only four supermarkets offer customers some options to use refillable containers. 86% shoppers support the idea of supermarkets moving towards using more refillable and reusable packaging but only Morrisons is showing much promise on it so far. 
  • Greenpeace wants supermarkets to eliminate non-recyclable plastic, like black plastic, by 2019. Most have agreed to do so by 2025. Only four have adopted earlier time frames – M&S and Aldi by 2022; Waitrose and Co-op by 2023. The Co-op currently has the highest proportion of recyclable plastic packaging, at 79%.

Read the full report Checking out on Plastics and sign the petition to tell supermarkets to follow Iceland’s lead and ditch throwaway plastic packaging.

Single-use plastics ban approved by European Parliament

On October 24th 2018, the European Parliament voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans. EU states still have to back the directive, but is expected to go through in November and be law by the end of the year. 

The proposed directive contains: 

  • A ban on plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks by 2021, because there are readily available alternatives for them.
  • A requirement that 90% of all plastic drinks bottles will need to be collected for recycling by 2025. Currently, bottles and their lids account for about 20% of all the sea plastic.
  • A requirement that single-use plastic for food and drink containers “where no alternative exists”, like plastic cups, burger boxes and sandwich wrappers, are reduced by 25% in each country by 2025.
  • An amendment requiring cigarette makers to reduce the plastic in cigarette filters by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030. Cigarette filters are a plastic pollutant that is common on beaches. A plan to tackle discarded fishing gear such as plastic lines and nets. They take about 600 years to biodegrade and account for nearly a third of all the marine litter found on EU beaches.

The European Commission proposed a ban in May, following a surge in public support attributed to documentaries such as David Attenborough’s BBC Blue Planet series.

One MEP said, if no action was taken, “by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans”.

The UK will have to incorporate the rules into national law if the ban becomes a fully-fledged directive before the end of a Brexit transition period.

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