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Why the government should ban “problem plastics”

Posted by Alice Hunter - 2nd November 2018

What do black plastic trays, styrofoam takeaway boxes and PVC clingfilm have in common?

They’re all “problem plastics” – non-recyclable, too expensive to recycle or toxic to the environment.

Obviously these materials aren’t the only plastics that can cause problems for the environment, but they’re some of the worst offenders. Because “problem plastics” are difficult to process (either because they’re unrecyclable or recycling them is expensive) they’re more likely to end up being dumped or burned.

The UK produces up to 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste a year, and our recycling and waste systems simply can’t keep up. Huge amounts of it is going to landfill, being shipped abroad, and ending up in our rivers and oceans. A new Greenpeace investigation has revealed that UK household waste is even ending up in illegal landfill sites in Malaysia.

But other countries are getting fed up of being used as a dumping ground. Just last week Malaysia joined China in announcing new restrictions on waste imports. To deal with this plastic crisis (and stop the flow of plastic pollution into our oceans), the government needs to tackle the problem at its source, by dramatically reducing the amount of plastic that is produced in the first place.

The government has recently announced that they’re considering a ban on single-use plastics like cotton buds and plastic stirrers*. Whilst this would be a positive step, the government mustn’t ignore the far bigger threat of problem plastics. These materials are difficult to process but relatively easy to replace, with many alternative options already out there.

This is starting to play out in retailers, and some supermarkets have already started taking steps towards banning problem plastics (for example by banning black plastic trays, like the kind used for ready meals.) But plastic pollution is an urgent problem, and we can’t wait for supermarkets and manufacturers to set their own pace.

The solution to dealing with these problem plastics is to stop them being made in the first place, and the government has the power to make this happen. Please sign the petition and ask them to introduce a ban by the end of 2019.

*For some people with disabilities plastic straws are absolutely vital. Any ban on straws must take this into account.