- Theresa May has unveiled her strategy to eliminate UK’s use of avoidable plastic
- Denmark was the first country to tax plastic bags and introduced a levy in 1994
- France became the first country in the world to announce a ban on plastic plates
Yesterday, Theresa May unveiled her 25-year strategy to eliminate Britain’s use of ‘avoidable’ plastic including bottles, cups and packaging. But while the PM’s efforts are welcome, there are more steps we could take.
Whether it’s France banning disposable cutlery, Kenya threatening users of carrier bags with jail or the Indian state that banned everything from plastic bunting to clingfilm – the rest of the world is full of ideas for cutting our usage further.
Plastic bag bans and charges
More than 40 countries restrict or tax plastic bags. Denmark was the first, introducing a levy paid by manufacturers in 1994 – now the average Dane uses just four bags a year. In 2002 Ireland was first to make shoppers pay a bag tax (of 15 euro cents), with the money paid into an environmental fund. Within a year, 90 per cent of people were using long-life bags – and the law became a template for the rest of the world including the UK.
Theresa May unveiled her 25-year strategy to eliminate Britain’s use of ‘avoidable’ plastic including bottles
At least ten African governments have adopted bag restrictions, some of them with extraordinarily harsh punishments. Kenya is home to the world’s toughest anti-plastic bag law where anybody caught producing, selling or using them can face four years in prison or a £30,000 fine. In Rwanda a ban on importing plastic bags means border guards routinely catch smugglers with them stuffed into their underwear or wrapped around their bodies. Offenders can be jailed for six months.
Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China banned thin plastic bags and ordered shops to charge a fee for thicker ones. Officials claimed that in the first year, it saved 40billion bags.
Deposit return schemes
Deposit return schemes for drinks bottles and cartons operate in around 40 countries worldwide and are common across northern Europe. Shoppers pay a deposit when they buy drinks in single-use packaging. They get the cash back when they take empty containers to recycling facilities including special bottle banks dubbed ‘reverse vending machines’ that accept waste and dispense cash. In Norway, recent research found 96 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled and 90 per cent of deposit-marked bottles and cans in Denmark are returned.
In 2016, France was the first country in the world to announce a ban on plastic plates, cutlery and cups. When it comes into force in 2020, all such items will have to be made of 50 per cent biologically-sourced materials that can be composted at home. Last January authorities in the Indian capital city of Delhi banned the use of all disposable plastic including, as well as plastic bags, chai cups and cutlery.
More than 40 countries restrict or tax plastic bags and Denmark was the first to do so in 1994
In December, 193 countries signed a UN Resolution to eliminate plastic waste from the oceans. The UN also runs the voluntary Clean Seas campaign which aims to engage ‘governments, the general public, civil society and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic litter’. Nearly 40 countries – accounting for more than half the world’s coastline and including the UK – have signed up, as well as companies including DELL and Volvo.
Membership has encouraged some governments to pledge ambitious measures including Indonesia’s promise to spend up to a billion US dollars a year on tackling waste and Sri Lanka’s commitment to making its beaches pollution-free by 2030.
From the start of this month China, the world’s largest export market for household waste, banned imports of plastic waste as it concentrates on its own pollution problems. China’s efforts could make a huge difference. A study released in December found that 90 per cent of the plastic entering the world’s oceans comes from just ten rivers with four of them – the Pearl River, the Yellow River, the Yangtse and the Mekong – flowing through China. A fifth, the Amur River, runs along the border between China and Russia.
The UN also runs the voluntary Clean Seas campaign which aims to engage ‘governments, the general public, civil society and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic litter’
Total plastic ban
In March 2016 the state of Karnataka, in south-west India, introduced a comprehensive ban on the use of plastic by businesses. A notification said: ‘No shopkeeper, vendor, wholesale dealer, retailer, trader, hawker or salesman shall use plastic carry bags, plastic banners, plastic buntings, flex, plastic flags, plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic spoons, clingfilm and plastic sheets for spreading on dining tables.’ The bold policy sent a strong message, although activists have suggested officials are too lax in enforcing it.
Manufacturing products containing microbeads is banned in the UK, US and Canada with restrictions on their sale being introduced there later this year. In New Zealand a microbeads ban is being introduced in June.
When the federal law banning microbeads was passed by the United States Congress in 2015, the American Chemical Society estimated that 8trillion microbeads a day were entering the US water supply – enough to cover 300 tennis courts.