World Environment Day is the UN’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. In homage to World Environment Day 2018 (5 June), this blog post focuses on this year’s theme of beating plastic pollution and considers the initiatives being led and the actions being taken by environmental activists, governments, and businesses from across the plastics value chain, to tackle one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world.

An estimated 8 million tonnes of waste plastic finds its way into the oceans every year. The issue of plastic pollution is not revolutionary however it has gained traction in recent years with governments across the world moving to implement policies to tackle the problem, in response to growing public concerns over plastics polluting oceans and damaging marine wildlife. Businesses are also addressing the issue, particularly in response to the public’s reaction to the shocking images of marine pollution in the BBC documentary series Blue Planet II. 

What has happened so far?

In 2015, the UK government introduced the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags by all retailers with over 250 employees.  

On 9 January this year, the ban on manufacturing products containing plastic microbeads entered into force, with the ban on sales of such products to follow in July of this year. The UK government first pledged to ban plastic microbeads in September 2016, following a US ban in 2015. 

In addition, at the beginning of this year, Theresa May set out the Conservative party’s 25-year plan to improve the environment which included a vow to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. 

Also in January this year, the European Commission adopted the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy intended to help protect the environment and reduce marine litter.  

In April, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) launched The UK Plastics Pact, part of the international initiative, The Plastics Pact. Each plastics pact aims to (i) eliminate unnecessary and problematic single-use plastic packaging, and (ii) redesign all plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Each pact also pledges to increase the collection and recycling of plastic packaging, as well as the recycled content used in plastic packaging. The UK Plastics Pact brings together more than 40 companies (including retailers, brands, manufacturers, producers, recyclers) that pledge to transform the UK plastic packaging sector by 2025. 

In May, the Commission proposed new EU-wide rules to impose a ban on the 10 single-use plastic products (including cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons) that constitute 70% of all marine litter items, by 2021. 

Next steps

The ban on certain single-use plastic products and removal of unnecessary plastic packaging from retailers’ ‘shelves’ is seen by environmental activists as a positive move in reducing the flow of plastics into the environment. However, it is lobbied that retailers and manufacturers need to move quickly to phase out unnecessary plastic packaging and that more also needs to be done on a global scale to increase recycling methods and technologies, and educate consumers on what is and isn’t recyclable.


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