Regulations And Emerging Policies On Plastic Pollution Crisis
 

Over the past decades, excessive use of single-use plastics has been adding heavy burden on the environment. According to McKinsey & Company, only 16% of global plastic waste is being re-processed and made into new plastics. The rest of the waste often ends up in incineration and landfills that will take centuries to degrade. This presents a huge challenge, as the accumulated plastics will eventually enter our environment and food chain, polluting and damaging our ecosystem.

Fortunately, raising awareness on the plastic pollution crisis is prompting consumers and many industry players to take initiatives in addressing the issue. Brands and retailers are proactively making sustainability commitments. Meanwhile governments across the globe are implementing new regulations to minimize and manage environmental waste across all value chains, from manufacturing to disposal. In this article, we will explore various plastics-related regulations that are coming into force, while highlighting their impacts on market trends.

 

Plastic Bags

According to UN Environment, up to 5 trillion of plastic bags are consumed globally each year. As such, a majority of policies are set to target plastic bags, particularly on non-recyclable LDPE bags. As of 2022, at least 66% of countries (127 out of 192 reviewed) have already adopted some forms of policies to regulate plastic bag usage, including:

  • Bans/ restrictions on usage
  • Standards for thickness thresholds & materials used and distributed
  • Levies/ taxes targeting consumers or manufacturers

Figure 1. Countries implementing taxes or ban on plastic bags (Source: Statista)

 

Other Single-Use Plastics

In recent years, many countries have expanded their scope of regulations to include other types of single-use plastics, e.g. straws, wrappers and bottles. Some of the most recent laws that have come into effect are:

  • Canada – Proposed Single Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations on banning 6 kinds of single-use plastics, including, straw, stir sticks, ring carriers, grocery bags, cutlery and hard to recycle takeout containers.
  • China–Set out a 5-year plan to ban the use of plastic products by 2020, 2022, and 2025, respectively. Phase 1 involves banning plastic straws and bags in major cities starting from 2021.
  • France – Starting from 2022, 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables are banned from being wrapped in plastic. The country has also banned the use of plastic straws, cups, cutlery and polystyrene takeaway boxes since 2021.
  • Hong Kong – Proposed a ban on all single-use polystyrene tableware in both dine-in and takeaway services by 2025.
  • Spain – Ban on sales of fruits and vegetables with plastic packaging by 2023.
  • UK – Announced plans to prohibit all single-use plastic cutlery and tableware.

 

Managing Plastic Waste

Reducing plastic usage is not enough. As the amount of plastic waste continues to grow, governments are introducing new regulatory schemes to minimize the amount of plastics going to landfills. For instance, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies hold producers accountable for the collection and recycling of certain types of plastics they have produced or introduced into the market.

Meanwhile, deposit return schemes are becoming popular, especially across Australia, Canada and certain states in the US. The schemes target consumers by adding a surcharge to beverages, which will then be refunded when the empty packaging is returned to the collection points. Given the success of these policies, the Hong Kong government has decided to follow suit. The city is currently on a trial run to test out their new Reverse Vending Machines (RVM), where consumers will be given instant rebate upon return of their used beverage containers. According to the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department, over 16M of plastic bottles have already been collected since its launch in 2021 Q1.

Figure 2. RVM Pilot Scheme in HK – Bottles are compressed and stored inside the machine and will be collected regularly for recycling (Source: HK Environmental Protection Department)

 

Reuse

Another way to take pressure off our landfills is through reuse. However, not all plastics are reusable. France is one of the first countries that supports the reusing trend. With its reuse packaging target law in place, they mandate to have at least 10% of reusable packaging on the market by 2027. It is predicted that the market will slowly shift away from single-use plastics, as more European countries, e.g. Austria, Germany, are adopting mandatory quotas for reusable packaging.

 

Looking Ahead

The above policy updates will prompt further action over plastic pollution. As the new year begins, we believe that the new regulatory changes will continue to incentivize industry players to look for new solutions around the topic of sustainability. For innovations that help tackle the single-use plastics challenge, read our previous article: https://www.themillsfabrica.com/news/tackling-plastics-in-packaging/.

 

References

1. Packaging Insights. ‘Biodegradable boo or bust? Bioplastic innovation confronts cost and policy challenges’:https://www.packaginginsights.com/news/biodegradable-boom-or-bust-bioplastic-innovation-confronts-cost-and-policy-challenges.html

2. McKinsey & Company. ‘The drive towards sustainability in packaging – beyond the quick wins’: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/paper-forest-products-and-packaging/our-insights/the-drive-toward-sustainability-in-packaging-beyond-the-quick-wins

3. ‘The world is ditching plastics with reuse and refill laws and practices’: https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/51843/plastics-reuse-and-refill-laws/

4. Principles for Responsible Investment. ‘The Plastic Landscape: Regulations, Policies and Influencers’ Report

5. United Nations Environmental Programme. ‘Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics: A Global Review of National Laws and Regulations’ Report

6. BBC News. ‘French ban on plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables begins’ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59843697

7. Library of Congress. “China: Single-Use Plastic Straw and Bag Ban Takes Effect” https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2021-03-23/china-single-use-plastic-straw-and-bag-ban-takes-effect/

8. “Plastics And Packaging Laws in Hong Kong” https://cms.law/en/int/expert-guides/plastics-and-packaging-laws/hong-kong

9. “Hong Kong: The Phasing Out Of Plastic Tableware in Hong Kong” https://www.mondaq.com/hongkong/advertising-marketing-branding/1100296/the-phasing-out-of-plastic-tableware-in-hong-kong