Will PM's plastic waste plan impact the packaging industry?
After listing some of the negative effects of plastic on the environment, UK Prime Minister Theresa May stated it is “one of the great environmental scourges of our time”.
In her speech last week, she put forward a 25-year environmental plan which aimed to tackle these issues and position Britain as one of the leaders of sustainability in the future.
“We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates,” May said. “To tackle it we will take action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic.”
Popular TV series Blue Planet II recently highlighted the negative impact human waste has on the environment and wildlife. May drew on this to argue that reducing the number of plastic bags should be one of the focuses going forward.
Introduced in 2015, the 5p charge to use plastic bags in supermarkets successfully reduced the amount of plastic used by consumers, but retailers still sold 2.1 billion in the last financial year. To address the “throwaway culture”, the 5p charge is going to be extended to all retailers in England.
Other policies put forward by May include: implementing a plastic tax; funding for plastics innovation; introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles; and using UK aid to help developing nations reduce plastic waste.
Packaging industry opinions
But this poses the question: how is the packaging industry reacting to May’s announcement? The short answer is: positively.
Ultimately, plastic forms a crucial part of its operations, jobs and profit. But aluminium food packaging manufacturer Advanta explained why it supports this movement.
With environmental issues coming to the fore of consumers’ minds, export sales manager Miguel Campos explained that the onus of reinforcing sustainable practices falls to everyone, including manufacturers.
“The UK can tackle the plastic problem, but it is not just down to consumers and supermarkets,” said Campos. “With supermarkets proactively seeking plastic-free product lines, we need to see an increase in food manufacturers developing products that are sold loose or contained in aluminium, glass and paper alternatives.”
Is it enough?
While these changes are an important step towards a greener future in Britain, there continues to be some criticism. Some suggested this was long overdue, failed to have legislation to back it up and did not take into account several other important practices.
Although Campos praised May’s efforts, he suggested there were several other options that could also be explored.
“These changes should be complemented by consumer recycling initiatives, backed by local councils, to educate the consumer. Ultimately, it will take a holistic approach to reducing the plastic packaging that reaches landfill as effectively as possible.”
While Campos emphasised the importance of raising awareness, May has said she plans to dedicate £10 million towards educating young children about nature.
Environmental groups were also supportive of this announcement, but suggested that the policies should have included deposit return schemes for plastic water bottles, a method that has proven successful in the past.
“These are tried and tested ways to keep plastic bottles out of the environment and have strong public backing, yet there’s no trace of them in the government announcement,” said Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
Overall, May intends to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. She said: “I want the Britain of the future to be a truly Global Britain, which is a force for good in the world. Steadfast in upholding our values — not least our fierce commitment to protecting the natural environment.”
While this marks a huge step in Britain’s environmental agenda, green policies are gaining popularity among the younger generations in general. Therefore, the tides are turning towards a more plastic-free, sustainable and greener future. Since many in the packaging industry are already researching more sustainable solutions, this should not be a huge shock to them going forward.
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