Last week’s poll: reducing plastic waste

What measures would be most effective in cutting the volume of waste plastics?

plastic waste

On January 16, 2018 frozen food retailer Iceland declared its intention to eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own brand products by the end of 2023.

The announcement came nearly a week after the government launched its 25-year environment plan, which aims to eliminate all ‘avoidable plastic waste’ by the end of 2042. To help achieve this goal, carrier bag charges will be extended to all retailers in England, and government will work with the supermarkets to encourage plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.

Other measures include new funding into plastics innovation via the government’s £7bn R&D fund.

TV series like Blue Planet II and media campaigns such as Sky Ocean Rescue have brought problems associated with plastic waste at sea into sharp focus, with the fatal impact it can have on sea creatures and degraded plastic making its way into the human food chain being two environmentally malignant issues raised by discarded plastic.

The government quotes a figure that suggest 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, and that ‘without urgent action to cut demand this is likely to be 34 billion tonnes by 2050’.

Philip Law, director general of the British Plastics Federation points out that much of the plastic in the seas arrive from the less developed economies of Asia, which have rudimentary waste management systems.

“Plastics get into the seas by a number of routes and each route needs to be dealt with separately,” he said in response to Theresa May’s 25-year plan.

As a result of this, we asked Engineer readers if they agree with the government’s aim of cutting plastic use in food packaging, or would it be better to encourage recycling of plastic bottles by introducing a deposit scheme, similar to the one which used to exist for glass bottles? Would a “latte levy” on single-use, non-recyclable beverage cups be effective? Or would it be better to target the waste rather than consumers, improving sorting of municipal waste to ensure that everything that can be recycled, is recycled; or incentivise the reprocessing of waste into chemical feedstocks, to alleviate the problem of low value per unit mass of shredded plastic and allow the production of new virgin material with a higher value?

A total of 673 readers responded to the poll, and the results were more or less evenly spread (+5 per cent) over four of the options given.

In terms of most votes, over a quarter (27 per cent) agreed that the situation could be alleviated with improved waste sorting, and just over a fifth (22 per cent) thought there should be a return of bottle deposit schemes. Plastic-free aisles in supermarkets and incentives for recycling to feedstocks both received 24 per cent of the vote, but the Latte levy was much less popular with three per cent of respondents opting for that choice.

To date, the poll has generated a considerable number of comments, and your views are still welcome below.