The Council of the EU has recently adopted the measures proposed by the European Commission to tackle marine litter coming from the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on European beaches, as well as abandoned fishing gear and oxo-degradable plastics.
The measure is described as “ambitious” or “historic” and we cannot overstate its importance, but, on the other hand, I must underline that it comes late, at a time when the wildlife on Earth is already threatened, when the climate is changing and micro-plastic has contaminated land, ocean life, and even our food. Of course, this is a positive measure if we think that many other states have not taken any measures and they are not taking steps in this direction yet. On the other hand, I cannot omit the fact that scientists have been talking about plastic threatening the oceans for about 60 years. The whole world has ignored the problem until it became a global threat.
If you put things on paper like this, you might think that the measure is not so much “ambitious” and “historic”, as it is “desperate”, “necessary” and “mandatory”. Seeing the problem from this perspective, it is then appropriate to say that the rising of awareness and activism for the environment and to fight climate change, together with today’s economic problems are also contributing to this political decision. The infrastructure destructions caused by extreme weather or the rising costs of insurances contributed to this decision. The economy of the world is threatened by climate change. So, it is not only a matter of ecology but also a matter of business.
Moreover, the new directive bans only specific types of plastic, starting with 2021: cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, sticks for balloons, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastic. The new rules include a 90% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 (77% by 2025) and the introduction of design requirements to connect caps to bottles, as well as target to incorporate 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles from 2025 and 30% in all plastic bottles as from 2030.
Theoretically, the measures seem to be good, but they are not eliminating all the plastic from the industry and there are still years until some of them will be applied. Now, correlate this information with the fact that humans buy about one million plastic bottles per minute in total.
Now is the time for the industry to take steps into this direction. I know some companies are already doing it, but then again things are moving slowly comparing to the rhythm of consumption.
For over one century and a half, the industry has been trailblazing the path for regulations and it is time to do it again, despite the fact that it is not primarily a matter of direct profit. It is up to the companies to choose how to do it and, despite initial costs – which are actually smart investments – they have to see the benefits as well. More and more consumers are trying to eliminate or reduce the plastic they are using and they are asking for sustainable products.
It is time to choose if the company:
- Eliminates the plastic and replaces it with paper or even leaves where this is possible;
- Creates or participates in complex recycling schemes such the one proposed by Terracycle;
- Innovates in this sector and proposes new eco materials that can become sales drivers for their products.
More importantly, they have to do it now, and even before the law makes it compulsory, to stay ahead in business!