This week, we’ll be focusing on the second of the five Rs – reduce! Reduce can be understood in a lot of different ways, for example:
- You can reduce by letting go of things you don’t need – this can be through donating, gifting, and recycling things you no longer need or use.
- You can reduce by cutting down – such as by reducing your transportation carbon footprint by opting to walk, bicycle, or take public transportation instead of driving or flying.
- You can also reduce by taking proactive steps to cut back on your plastic consumption by bringing a reusable bag with you shopping, or choosing to buy in bulk to reduce packaging.
We can all take action in our everyday lives to reduce plastics, but at times we’re faced with limited options – for instance, when we receive packages with polystyrene and are left with no choice but to throw it in the garbage because your curbside recycling programs won’t accept it.
Encouragingly, governments around the world are starting to implement laws and legislation banning certain types of plastics. In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to introduce a ban on lightweight plastic bags. In 2016, Morocco took this a step further and brought in a total ban on the production, import, sale or distribution of single-use plastic bags
This week we’ll look at countries that are introducing plastic bans in order to reduce the use of plastic.
The United States
In America, bans on plastic are done on a state-by-state basis, as opposed to nationally. For example, California became the first state in 2014 to bring in a ban on single-use plastic bags, followed by Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont.
Polystyrene, a rigid, transparent thermoplastic found in molded products, foam and sheet materials, is non-recyclable in curbside recycling and has not only been shown to damage our ecosystems but has carcinogenic qualities that can threaten our health, is also being banned by states in the U.S.
Maryland was the first state in the U.S. to enact a ban on polystyrene and has been followed by:
- Colorado (goes into effect January 2024)
- New York (goes into effect January 1st, 2022)
- Virginia (goes into effect July 2023 for large businesses and July 2025 for small businesses)
Despite the continued impact of the COVID-19, 2021 has still seen some exciting steps forward in the move to ban certain types of plastics that aren’t traditionally curbside recyclable.
Canada has been leading the charge by announcing a ban on six hard-to-recycle plastics that will come into effect at the end of 2021, including:
- Plastic grocery bags
- Stir sticks
- Plastic cutlery
- Six-pack rings
- Food containers
To add to this, in May 2021 Canada was the first country in the world to rule that plastic is toxic under Canada’s primary environmental law — the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). This importantly paves the way for government and lobbyists to bring in a new raft of regulations targeting certain types of plastics.
The EU is bringing in a significant change to tackle 10 single-use plastics that have been found commonly washed up on European beaches. Where sustainable alternatives are easily available and affordable, this month the EU officially banned:
- Cotton swabs
- Cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers
- Balloons and sticks for balloons
- Food containers
- Cups for beverages
- Beverage containers
- Cigarette butts
- Plastic bags
- Packets and wrappers
- Wet wipes and sanitary items
Alongside this, the EU has set specific targets including:
- A 77% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2025 – increasing to 90% by 2029
- Incorporating 25% of recycled plastic in PET beverage bottles from 2025, and 30% in all plastic beverage bottles from 2030
For more information, visit The European Union’s website here.
Up until the end of 2020, England was using 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds every year.
At the end of 2020, England enforced a ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton swabs.
The British government has for a time been taking action against plastic:
- In 2018: the government took action by actions on plastics including world-leading ban on microbeads
- In 2019: a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of single-use drinks containers was brought in for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- In 2020: the 5p charge on single-use bags was doubled to 10p and extended to all retailers from April 2021.
France has made the incredible commitment to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2040!
To reach this ambitious target, the French government has been rolling out a phase-by-phase ban on single-use plastics. Each year, they’ve been gradually implementing new measures to give businesses and consumers time to prepare and adjust.
- January 1, 2019-20: saw the ban on common single-use plastic products including, plates, cups, and cotton swabs and plastic water bottles in school catering services
- In 2020-21: a further ban was implemented on plastic straws, disposable cutlery, plastic takeout lids, confetti, drink stirrers, foam containers, plastic straws, and produce packaging for fruits and vegetables weighing less than 1.5kg will all be forbidden.
Additionally, new laws will make vendors legally obligated to allow customers to use their own containers, and there will even be penalties for those who use excessive plastic packaging.
- In 2022: Ban on plastic tea bags and toys distributed free of charge in fast-food restaurants. In addition, banning the distribution of free plastic bottles in companies, making water fountains mandatory in public establishments.
A ban will also be brought in on disposable dishes in fast-food restaurants for meals served on site.
- By 2025: 100% of the plastic used is to be recycled.
South Australia was the first state in Australia to ban the sale, supply and distribution of single-use plastic products such as straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers.
This created a domino effect, with the other Australian states taking similar action rolling out plastic bans, spanning not just single-use items, but also including micro-beads, cotton swab sticks and fruit and vegetable packaging.
Amazingly, now all but two states have committed to banning single-use plastics. For a state-by-state breakdown, the Australian Marine Conservation Society has laid it out clearly, below:
Beyond this, Australia has also announced that:
- Polystyrene will be phased out from 2022 as part of Australia’s plastic waste plan. This will also see a phase-out of packaging that does not meet compostable standards.
- Biodegradable: To start dealing with Australia’s mounting plastic crisis, the federal government National Plastics Plan also outlines plans to ban the main form of biodegradable plastic.
It’s exciting to see that New Zealand is starting to take serious action against plastic. Last month, the New Zealand government announced a significant ban on a number of hard-to-use plastics by 2025, which includes single-use plastic packaging, earbuds, spoons and straws. The new policy will remove 2 billion single-use items from New Zealand landfill each year
In 2019, the New Zealand government rolled out a nationwide ban on plastic shopping bags but this new ban will also include plastic packaging on fruits and vegetables.
Not stopping there, the government has continued plans to tackle plastic – for instance:
- From January 2023, New Zealand will phase out all PVC plastic food and beverage packaging, some polystyrene food and beverage packaging and all oxo-degradable plastic products.
- January 2025: Phase out all remaining polystyrene food and beverage packaging, all other expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging.