With more and more attention being drawn to the issue of single-use plastics and the waste they create, the Government has announced funding to reduce waste and increase the production of recyclable plastics. Working in collaboration with businesses, the initiative is part of the wider Clean Growth Challenge.
The Clean Growth Challenge is part of the Government’s plan to legislate an end to the UK’s global warming contributions. If it achieves its goal by 2050, it will be the first of the major economies to do so. It has already begun supporting the development of plant-based plastics, in addition to announcing a possible deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, glass bottles and tin cans. The new initiative will involve a £60 million investment from the government alongside up to £149 million from British businesses to reduce plastic pollution.
At current rates, the amount of plastic packaging produced and then discarded will only increase between now and 2050. In recent times, around 80 million tons of plastic has been produced every year and, of that, 95% has only a short lifecycle before being wasted. As well as contributing to landfill and pollution, this means that the plastic is no longer able to contribute to the economy. The new initiative aims to change that.
There are multiple levels to the Government’s plan. Firstly, waste will need to be cut at all stages of the plastic supply chain, but then businesses will have to rethink their overall operations. There is also a push to develop new materials for use in packaging. Food waste, wood chippings and plants (including seaweed) all offer better recycling potential than traditional plastics and should produce less carbon dioxide in their manufacture.
One part of the new initiative is a call for evidence by the Government to help set the standards for biodegradable, compostable and other bio-based plastics. It wants to know which materials are most sustainable and what kind of wider impact could result from those materials being introduced. It also wants to know how these materials should be labelled. The consultation will run until the 14th October and is primarily aimed at researchers, scientists and manufacturers.
The Government is not the only body seeking to reduce plastic. Many businesses, including supermarkets, are implementing strategies to reduce their plastic waste. Sainsbury’s is removing plastic packaging from its fresh fruit and vegetables as well as making it possible to refill water bottles in shops as part of its plan to remove 10,000 tons of plastic within a year.
Meanwhile, Waitrose has announced that it will use recycled plastic (primarily from bottles and trays) for ready meal packaging, which could lead to every ready meal having a different packaging colour depending on the plastic used.
Reducing single-use plastic is currently a priority for consumers, which means that it must also become a priority for businesses and the Government. This new funding is an important step in the process of ensuring that less plastic waste is produced, and that when it is, it can be disposed of in environmentally friendly ways.