After years of consultation, last month finally saw EU legislation passed to minimise the sale and use of plastic bags across the UK.
Under the new plans, which are set for introduction in October 2014, member states will have the opportunity to charge a levy for single-use synthetic bags, aiming to halve hand-outs over three years and slash total commercial use by over 80% before 2024. This also presents the opportunity for states to completely prohibit the production and use of plastic bags, without breaching single market rules, as well as imposing forceful penalties for failing to comply – a huge step forward in environmental terms.
This is a positive move, reducing the use of a throw-away item and environmental contaminate, and outlines rising government commitment to minimising environmental impact, as well as highlighting the priority of sustainability in the political agenda.
This is no doubt excellent news for the recycling industry, and furthers the fantastic work already undertaken by retailers, who have led the way in plastics reduction by eliminating unnecessary packaging waste and imposing charges for plastic bags. However, with huge targets already set for reducing use, alongside the challenges surrounding effective plastic recycling, more still needs to be done to meet and drive forward effective sustainable strategies.
Although we all have our part to play in minimising the unnecessary use and disposal of plastics, further government support and funding is essential to meet these goals. Recent statistics released by The UK Household Plastics Collection Survey further this, highlighting typical costs associated with recycling plastics and the gap in funding to achieve outlined targets.
The 50% of plastic bottles recycled in the UK in 2012, for example, cost well over £24m, while only 17% of councils could afford to provide a free household collection service. What’s more, recycling targets are set to rise by over 5% every year to meet 2020 figures, despite a negligible rise in funding. The figures speak for themselves; targets are high, while funding is still startlingly low. Add to that the confusion of what type of plastics can and can’t be recycled – it’s a mountain to climb.
Over the last few years, Prova has worked alongside a number of specialist organisations in the waste management and environmental sector, helping to raise the profile of sustainable solutions and encouraging the national introduction of green alternatives.
From plastics and fines handling to complete MRF solutions, our team of practitioners has seen the industry progress dramatically, from initial regulations to international government guidelines detailing specific requirements for reuse and disposal guidelines.
We believe that the decision to bin the plastic bag is most definitely a step in the right direction. What’s more, it highlights that environmental management is becoming a key priority in the political agenda. However, with a level of uncertainty about how future targets can be achieved, let alone insufficient financial support for collection, education and processing, it seems clear that further backing is critical to drive forward these strategies and prioritise effective techniques to minimise the impact of synthetics.