According to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), litter has increased by 135% since 1994, with plastics increasing by a staggering 180%. This huge rise has had devastating consequences on the environment and it is time to take action.
Plastic straws are a major part of the problem and the MCS is campaigning for a reduction in single-use plastic and encouraging consumers to ‘refuse the straw’ and for businesses to stop handing them out.
The good news is that many leading bars and restaurants across the UK have already made a move against straws. For example, Wetherspoons has switched to paper straws and All Bar One has pledged to ban plastic straws in all its UK outlets.
The government is also implementing changes and, earlier this year, the Prime Minister launched the 25 Year Environment Plan, outlining steps for a cleaner, greener Britain – with avoidable plastic waste eliminated by the end of 2042.
The London Evening Standard also launched The Last Straw campaign which is appealing to all food and drink businesses across the capital to ban plastic straws or to plan to phase them out by the end of 2018.
Two billion plastic straws are used in London every year and, by taking the Last Straw Pledge, companies can play a significant role in tackling the city’s waste problem. The campaign was praised by Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove as he announced that a UK-wide ban on plastic straws is soon set to be introduced.
Why ban plastic straws?
Plastic straws are not biodegradable and will remain in the environment for hundreds of years. The devastating consequences of plastic on the ecosystem have been widely documented. Sea turtles and other marine life often mistake plastic bags and straws for food and this can lead to severe injuries and even loss of life.
A recent YouTube video, seen by more than 16 million people, showed a sea turtle struggling as a plastic straw was removed from its nostril with a pair of pliers. This shocking video has highlighted the hazards of single-use plastics and demonstrated the adverse effect they are having on the planet and natural world.
Plastic straw alternatives
According to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), the UK uses 8.5 billion single-use plastic straws every year; the highest number in Europe. Finding an alternative is therefore important for consumers and for businesses.
Recently, the BBPA produced guidance for companies and licensees to help them significantly reduce the use of plastic straws and move to alternative materials. It highlights some of the benefits and challenges of each material type, focusing on the most commonly used plastic straw alternatives including paper, wheat, metal/glass reusable and biodegradable plastic straws.
Although most of these alternatives are more expensive, only offering them on request to customers will help to alleviate the costs.
Plastic packaging recycling future
Plastic recycling has grown considerably in recent years, yet still more needs to be done to help the environment.
Many UK supermarkets are supporting WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025 and are making steps to reduce packaging. Some have introduced ‘plastic-free’ aisles where fruit and vegetables are sold loose.
According to the British Plastics Federation (BPF), only 26% of all plastic used in the UK ends up in landfill. In terms of plastic packaging, 45% of all plastic packaging used in the UK was recycled in 2016 - this is an improvement of 15% from 2015.
The Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP) is an industry action plan to increase the recycling of plastics, which is a whole value chain approach including initiatives to increase collection; improve sorting; and develop end markets for recycled plastics.
WRAP is also adding impetus to the plastic waste fight with its new Recycle Now campaign. Recycle Now is calling upon consumers to close the ‘plastic gap’ which sees only 58% of plastic bottles currently recycled in the UK, despite 99% of local authorities collecting bottles at kerbside, and increased public appetite to generally recycle more.
Across Europe, the issue is also being addressed as the EU plans to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030.
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