UK’s battle with single-use plastic amidst the 2020 pandemic
While the rest of the world including the UK faces large health and safety concerns, an environmental battle is at play behind the scenes.
The question remains is that if the pandemic brought out less plastic waste due to businesses being put to a halt, or has it caused plastic waste to increase?
Here’s what we know from the latest reports:
1. DEFRA has announced disruption to the single-use plastic ban
The government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that from 21 March 2020, shops will not have to charge for bags used in online grocery deliveries in England.
Following that, on 15 April 2020, they announced a delay on the plastic ban on single-use carriers, straws, stirrers, and cotton buds. This is expected to last until October 2020. The aim of this is to provide disposable plastic items for those who need them for medical reasons or a disability.
Although it is a “temporary measure” due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many are concerned that the delay will cause more unrecycled waste to be dumped on the UK landfills as well as the seas.
Rebecca Burgess, CEO of City to Sea said:
“Whilst we’re all having to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape, any delays or changes to the commitment will come with a large environmental cost”.
A statement from DEFRA follows:
“ We remain absolutely committed to turning the tide on the widespread use of single-use plastics and the threat they pose to our natural environment. This ban is yet another measure to clamp down on unnecessary plastic so we can better protect our precious wildlife and leave our environment in a better state for future generations.”
2. Lobbying from the BFP
At the height of the pandemic, media outlets questioned if the delay was due to the lobbying from the plastics sector such as the BPF.
The BFP or the British Plastic Foundation argues the plastic is essential and is ‘resource efficient’ especially at a time of service.
According to them, the demand for plastic went as high as 600% and 800% in a span of a week. This is due to the rising demand for plastic-based products such as food packaging and medical equipment such as single-use surgical gloves, blood bags, clinical waste bins, and syringes.
These have streamlined operations in hospitals across the UK by lifting the burden of sterilization.
Defra said this was false as “Ministers have decided to delay the ban because of the impact on businesses from the current coronavirus outbreak to avoid additional burdens for firms at this challenging time”.
3. Plans after October 2020
After October 2020, DEFRA announced that they will make sure industries pay higher fees if their packaging is harder to reuse or recycle.
Further plans also include an introduction of tax on plastic packaging from 2022. This will be implemented on packaging “which does not contain at least 30% recycled content”.
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