How valid is the upcoming plastic ban, and will it make any difference? Part 2.
In our previous post, we wrote how, in reality, we are all wish-cycling. That while 45,000 tonnes of plastic is collected for recycling, 90 percent is exported and 380,000 tonnes of plastics are landfilled. A circular approach is critical in alleviating pressure on the Earth, and we will not get there by encouraging businesses to use PET plastics. If a product contains materials that have no pathway to effective recapture and reprocessing, or cannot return to a natural system, they’re destined for a linear fate, and not part of the systemic change that we are pursuing.
Why are we continuing to put trash in the ground rather than prioritising circular alternatives?
Our current system underscores the gap between the public’s good intentions and recycling’s actual capacity. The phase-out of drink stirrers, plastic-stemmed cotton buds, plastic produce bags, plastic plates, bowls and cutlery and plastic straws extends to all types of plastic including compostable and bio-based plastics. Yet elsewhere—globally, demand for sustainable strategy is growing and expanding. Bio-based plastics are of prior importance for sustainable innovation of end-product and a plastic waste-free future. Today the bioplastics industry is a small but rapidly growing section of the plastics industry. At present, it makes up around 1 percent of the total plastics market. However, analysts forecast strong growth within the sector with increasing pressures to shift towards a new sustainability paradigm—the circular economy.
Estimates of waste generated in Aotearoa find that 60 percent of the raw resin imported is manufactured into packaging, which is dominated by single-use or short-lived products. These plastics are omitted by the single-use plastic phase-out. In use, plastics, used for packaging are estimated at 150,000 tonnes per year with plastic drink bottles accounting for 25,000 tonnes. Much of this plastic packaging is not targeted by the single-use plastic ban. Of the 575,000 tonnes total imported plastic, data gaps are acknowledged. Plastics used in agriculture, in construction remain unknown. To stop packaging pollution we need a circular economy where we eliminate what we don't need, innovate towards new packaging, products and business models, and circulate all the materials we do use. See infographic below illustrating the phasing out of problematic plastics.
Currently, end-of-life actions are the consumers’ responsibility. This has to drastically change in a properly functioning circular economy. Companies often have little interest in promoting their circular economy approach and so, to progress towards this future, taxation is required. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach under which producers are given financial significant responsibility for the treatment or disposal of their products post-consumption. The principal approach of this framework, which was adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1993, is that the environmental responsibility for a product lies with the producer. The OECD issued a guidance manual in 2001 for governments.
Locally we are yet to reinstate the beverage Container Return Scheme. The Government is currently consulting on a scheme. You can view the full consultation document—Transforming Recycling, here. To share your views on the proposal, you can have your say here.
The Italian model—creating added value for councils and composting operators
In 2011, Italian industries producing compostable packaging established a trade association called Assobioplastiche which was, in part was to eliminate fake compostables and biodegradables. This legally-recognised body managed environmental contributions paid by compostable producers into the national packaging waste EPR programme, educating and communicating the strategic role of compostables in ensuring the clean collection and treatment of food waste—not as a substitute for plastic packaging.
BIOREPACK, the national compostable packaging consortium sits within the body governing Italian packaging waste EPR known as CONAI. Total income to the CONAI bodies from producers usually stands at around €800-€900 million per annum. With around 100,000 tonnes of compostable packaging consumed in Italy, those contributions amount to around £20 million a year ensuring that what is sold onto the Italian market as compostable, is, in reality, compostable and that those materials are effectively collected and treated in plants where their value is maximised as carriers for food waste to generate energy and to return to soil as organic carbon and nutrients.
The proposed ban on single-use plastics and the dismissal of compostable materials is perplexing. Without significant investment, the phase-out remains a vanity measure not aimed at reducing total volumes of virgin plastic imported into the country. Certified bio-based material solutions are compatible with a bio-economy, like materials derived from agriculture or food waste. Certified compostables are designed to decompose with food waste, removing mechanical requirements of separation representing a fit for purpose replacement for fossil fuel-based plastics. Contamination is a non-issue
Currently, 15 percent of waste in landfill is food and this is not insignificant. Kerbside compostable collections that included certified compostable packaging products would divert more than 333,881 tonnes of food waste in addition to billions of items of compostable takeout containers. There’s no perfect solution but what is the point of singing this song of sustainability—of promoting clean green Aotearoa if people don’t have access to composting? Materials and waste are as much about culture and takeaways are not going anywhere. Compostable products were designed to help tackle the vast amounts of plastic packaging used in takeaway food deliveries, minimising the environmental impact of convenience culture.
If you found this article interesting, share it with others. If you are a business seeking to reduce your impact further or are impacted by the phase-out, get in touch to learn more about our products and closed-loop collection service, Compost Collect.