Single-use plastic pollution and your business
05 November 2021
Single-use plastic pollution has become an increasingly recognised global issue with over 300 million metric tons of plastic being produced every year, approximately half of which is destined for a single-use product. This has led to people from all walks of life being affected by these materials due to their substantial increase in use over recent decades.
Given the damaging impact these materials have on the environment, wildlife and human health, new legislations are being enforced across the globe to encourage nations to become less reliant on single-use plastics. As laws surrounding this issue become more prevalent, it is increasingly likely that they could affect many sectors and the operations of their respective businesses.
In this introductory blog to single-use plastics, we outline exactly what these materials are, the damaging impact they have and why your business should be conscious of adhering to relevant legislation(s).
As the terms ‘plastics’ and ‘single-use plastics’ are quite often used interchangeably, we explain exactly what is meant by the latter.
What are single-use plastics?
Due to its versatility and cheapness to manufacture, plastic is a near unavoidable material that is used for a variety of purposes. However, single-use plastics are frequently used for items such as food packaging, drinks bottles and disposable medical equipment. The nature of their purpose means they can only be used once before they are thrown away.
Common single-use plastic examples include:
- Plastic bags
- Coffee cups
- Plastic stirrers
- Plastic water bottles
- Plastic straws
- Drug tests
Petroleum-based plastics such as these pose serious problems for the environment as they are neither biodegradable nor easily recyclable. Instead, single-use plastics are generally sent to landfill or incineration sites, where they pose significant risk to the environment.
How does single-use plastic affect the environment?
The reliance on plastic products has been such that we are producing over 380 million tons of plastic every year, with some reports indicating that up to 50% of that is for single-use purposes. Despite these plastics serving a brief function, their inability to biodegrade means that they stay on the planet indefinitely.
As these materials essentially last a lifetime, they have caused long-term damage to the environment. One of the most common problems has been single-use plastics being washed from landfill sites into the ocean. This causes pollution for our streams and oceans, while harming marine animals and birds; for example, seagulls being tangled in beer rings.
In addition to the environment, these plastics also have a detrimental impact on human health. Although single-use plastics do not biodegrade, they will degrade into tiny particles over time. The danger arises from toxic chemicals being released during this process which can make their way into foods and water supplies. From here, these chemicals can enter the bloodstream, with the latest research finding that they disrupt the Endocrine system which can cause devastating side effects including cancer, infertility and birth defects among other ailments.
Thankfully, this damage has now been acknowledged on a wider scale, which has made reducing single-use plastic a global agenda. With this being the case, we have seen – and will continue to see – new legislations to cap the use of single-use plastics.
Single-use plastic legislation
Laws for the reduction of single-use plastics are being seen on a global scale. Unfortunately, we cannot cover every piece of new legislation in this section! However, what you should take away from this blog is that we will see new laws passed regarding single-use plastics over the long-term.
In fact, we have already seen legislation enforced in the UK with the ‘plastic packaging tax’ serving as the most popular example. This law is a tax that applies to plastic packaging produced in or imported into the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. This does not apply to plastic packaging which contains at least 30% recycled plastic, or any packaging that is not plastic by weight.
The plastic packaging tax, like many others, has been enforced to provide a clear economic incentive for businesses to prioritise the use of recycled material in the production of plastic packaging, creating a greater demand while diverting it away from landfill or incineration. In short, the overall goal of this global effort is to reduce the reliance on single-use plastics and the subsequent damage it causes.
However, failing to adhere to your EHS obligations can cause long-term problems for your business.
The importance of remaining EHS compliant
The world is trying to gradually move away from its over-reliance on single-use plastics and with this trend likely to continue, we will see more laws being made in relation to the use of these materials. This will mean that you will have to be more vigilant than before in terms of adhering to your EHS obligations. Failing to comply with these laws can cause your business long-term issues, with the most common including:
- Damage to your reputation
- Fines and/or imprisonment
- Customers opting to use a direct competitor
As environmental laws change, it is essential that you can swiftly adapt to ensure your business is able to operate to the required standard and avoid any repercussions.
Download our white paper
For more information about single-use plastic pollution, read our whitepaper: ‘The challenges surrounding single-use plastics and the future of plastic manufacturing’