Have we reached ‘peak plastic’? It feels like momentum is building on the issue of plastic waste in the environment. Across Europe, new laws and policies are being proposed or enacted, from plastic bottle deposit and return schemes, to bans and charges on single-use plastic bags, to phasing out non-compostable plastic cups, plates, and cutlery. Will these proposals make a difference? Or is it too little, too late?

In the United Kingdom, the BBC documentary “Blue Planet II” shocked viewers with its footage of plastic-clogged oceans and the impact on marine life. Even industry bodies accept that plastic waste is an issue, and want to see more recycling and sustainable use of plastics.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in about plastic waste from one of our long-time readers, Paul X, who put it like this: “Currently most fruit or veg either comes pre-packed in plastic or the supermarkets provide little bags to put it in. So when someone leaves the store with their shopping they have a plastic bag full of smaller plastic bags with the produce in. Why does it need two layers of plastic?”

In reply to Paul, we also had a comment from Sophie, who wonders whether plastic packaging really contributes to a lot of plastic waste. She says that when she walks around her city of Glasgow, she sees a lot of plastic bags, bottles, and cans, but hardly any supermarket plastic packaging. So, is it really such a big deal?

To get a response, we put Sophie’s comment to Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe. How would he react?

For another perspective, we also spoke to David Baker, Packaging Division Chairman at European Plastics Converters. What was his take?

I think Sophie raises an absolutely excellent point, there. The reality is that there is a lot of plastic waste around in the environment, and that is something which I’m concerned about as a citizen, but I’m also concerned about from an industry perspective as well.

So, she’s right, if you look at the waste that’s around – and therefore the waste that’s in the environment – that tends not to be the sort of packaging that you would find in a supermarket. Because supermarket packaging gets taken home, you take the goods out of the packaging, the packaging has then done its job – it’s delivered the goods to you in a very good condition – and nine times out of ten you dispose of that packaging in your household rubbish, whatever system you have (it might be curbside collection) but you would dispose of that within your home, and it tends not to get littered in the environment…

We also put the same comment to Dianna Cohen, CEO and Co-Founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition. What would she say? Does plastic packaging really contribute to a lot of plastic waste?

Absolutely. [Studies have shown] that plastics’ largest market is packaging, an application whose growth was accelerated by a global shift from reusable to single-use containers, starting in the 1950s. We need a return to reuse over ‘disposable’ plastic.

It’s awesome that you are paying attention to the plastic pollution you see in your neighborhood. I encourage all of you to keep paying attention, and use the app Litterati, a PPC member, to record the plastic pollution and other litter you see around you. This will help us see the brands that are the biggest polluters and hold them accountable for the products they create…

Next up, we had a comment sent in by Suitboy, who wonders if the best approach is to “nudge” the public, or to “shove” them. He argues that charging money for plastic bags would be an example of a “nudge”, but adds that a significant reduction in plastic may require more of a shove; for example an outright ban on plastic packaging. Is he right?

How would Dianna Cohen from the Plastic Pollution Coalition respond?

We need both nudges and shoves to solve the plastic pollution problem. We need individual people to change their behaviour, businesses to take responsibility for all the waste they create, and government to enact new laws to protects our waterways, oceans, and environment.

How would Joan Marc Simon from Zero Waste Europe respond?

Finally, how would David Baker from the European Plastic Converters respond?

[…] If there is an intervention by the EU in the form of a charge, levy, whatever it may be, what’s the end game? If the end game is to generate more money so that we can invest in better infrastructure, so that we can invest in action itself, then I am all for it. If the charges and levies are there to just generate more money for the general budget of that country or for the EU, then I’m not in favour of it, because that’s just another tax, and I think the monies should be directed clearly towards solving the problem.

In terms of ‘shoving’ or ‘nudging’, I don’t believe that bans are going to be at all practical, and I don’t think anybody that I’m aware of in any of the legislative bodies believe in bans. We live in a society where plastic packaging is an inherent part of what we do every day. It has a great number of very positive uses in extending shelf-life, allowing us to shop infrequently, delivering choice, letting us buy products from all over the world in a very fresh and pristine condition, and therefore banning is probably not the way to go forward.

Even banning some of the items that are not packaging – there’s things like plastic straws being talked about, stirrers, and plastic cutlery – I’m not in favour of banning any of those things, and I don’t think that there’s a lot of legislators that are in favour of banning those things. I may be proved wrong on that. But I do think that something needs to be done about these items, and I’m not against some form of charging, as long as – as I said – the money goes to the right place, and actually goes towards solving the issue, and reducing the amount of plastic in the environment.

Should plastic packaging be banned? Or would a ‘nudge’, in terms of charges or levies, be a better approach? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

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177 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Giulia

    Banned is a dream. But products should have just the right amount of packaging and possibly not mixing different materials, like plastic and paper cause that makes recycling hard. Also what’s the point in wrapping in plastic fruits like bananas?!

  2. avatar
    Pedro

    ASAP. In the meantime, it should be taxed to discourage its use and to raise money to fund the cost of recicling.

    • avatar
      Ginny Weasley

      why ban? If you had a debate saying about his topic then what will you do?

  3. avatar
    Tiziana

    Of course
    …it’s up to us…

    • avatar
      Eugenio

      If there are alternatives then yes

  4. avatar
    Sandrine

    Why do you add such stupid questions? The state of the Earth not polluted enough?

  5. avatar
    Peter

    If banned we will have a problem with cross contamination, shorter shelf life and more food waste. Banning completely would be dumb, however packaging that is soley used to make something look bigger than it is should be outlawed. Or perhaps we should just vote with our feet and reject goods with unnecessary packaging…

    • avatar
      Anne

      It could be replace with bio engineered packaging. For instance, wrapping made out of corn starch

    • avatar
      Alessandro

      While I agree with you that a lot of products are unnecessarily wrapped in plastic, what do you mean by cross contamination? What are the goods involved? I’m genuinely curious

    • avatar
      Peter

      different types of plastic have different barrier properties some are good oxygen barrier some defend against moisture, sadly there is no golden bullet where packaging is concerned, this is why some packaging has several layers of different plastics to protect the contents from the environment

    • avatar
      Peter

      cross contamination can occur when products are handled or stored, a good example is raw meat getting near cooked meat or fruit. Much of the packaging started out life as convenient means of protecting the contents from bacteria or drying out, the perfect example of unnecessary packaging would be designs for perfume and makeup.. necessary would be raw meat.

  6. avatar
    Rene

    Stop “debating” and start “discussing” or don’t you know the difference?!?

  7. avatar
    Boris

    Yes, but i don’t think it’s possible without completely rethinking our supply chain.

  8. avatar
    Sam

    Banned as soon as possible, or at least reduced by 80% since in most cases it’s absolutely not necessary.

  9. avatar
    Alan

    Yes. Never had it as a kid, or nowhere near as much!

  10. avatar
    James

    Meat has been in plastic since over 50 years. Even before self serve stores. Butchers put it in plastic bags, pre slices vegetables should be in plastic, soda should be in plastic bottles since glass is more weight and can easier be broken, so it’s the most stupid idea ever

    • avatar
      Amanda

      What’s the most stupid idea – getting rid of it or using it? I’m sorry but you are not being clear. And by the way – nothing should be in plastic – it is just is cheaper and more expedient to have it so now. Meat has not been in plastic for 50 years that is total nonsense. Pre sliced vegetables are a complete waste of time and money and also deplete the vitamins – try slicing them yourself! The most stupid idea ever is creating a material that will not decompose.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      Actually meat from a butchers was wrapped in paper, and soda came in glass bottles that had a deposit on them so they were almost always returned – kids would even look out for discarded bottles to collect and take to the shop for the deposit…now how about that for a radical idea?

  11. avatar
    John

    Yes, but it won’t because it is carcinogenic and the Pharmaceutical companies needed to remain on the shelves

  12. avatar
    Stefano

    Yes! , because the plastic as well as garbage , could spell the end of our planet. And this is the why I do care more and more to the climate change , than a war.

  13. avatar
    Rodger

    Yes, now require bio degradable or organic.

  14. avatar
    Peter

    A lot of people won’t agree with me but the world can not live without plastic as it is in nearly ever thing produced and there to many rich company making money out of plastic and as we know the law makers and the decision makers are all corrupt I can see it happening for a long time yet

    • avatar
      Iris-Marie

      Not if people keep buying plastic packaging or defending the law and companies that support it. No, it won’t happen overnight, but it certainly won’t happen if we close our eyes to the horrible consequences of using plastic packaging for anything and everything. Inaction is the plague of the world.

    • avatar
      Iris-Marie

      Or: if no one seems to care, does that mean you shouldn’t care either?

  15. avatar
    Amanda

    Something has to happen now otherwise the world will drown in the stuff. This has literally happened in my lifetime only (I am 64) and it horrifies me and should absolutely everyone. The rich stinking companies can carry on making plastic but they have to be forced now to make it biodegradable – perfectly possible – and stop using oil as its base.

  16. avatar
    Kayt

    My favorite is the pre- peeled orange or hardboiled egg..in a plastic container! Nononononooooo!!!

    • avatar
      Jamie

      Those pre-peeled are for people who are disabled and cannot do it for themselves. There’s a good reason for that. Don’t be an a*****e.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      “Those pre-peeled are for people who are disabled and cannot do it for themselves”……. the irony in your statement is some products are packaged in plastic that even able bodied people have problems opening

  17. avatar
    Kim

    Yes and at least get rid of disposal / singular use plastic!! Its a disgrace that more then half of the plastic used is not even recycable!

  18. avatar
    Bassie

    Use biodegradable plastics instead.

  19. avatar
    Brecht

    No, it would be better if humanity walks of the clif as soon as possible. In a thousand year everything will be cleaned up. What a stupid question is that.

    • avatar
      Daniel

      What a stupid reaction is that

    • avatar
      Brecht

      As stupid as the question. Learn to read

  20. avatar
    Robert

    Every plastic beverage can contains up to 300 microplastic particles. Tasty isn’t it?

  21. avatar
    Jay

    As soon as possible we were brought up with no plastic and never missed it .

  22. avatar
    Maddalena

    Bannested ! We survived ages without it it’s the great distribution fear

  23. avatar
    Brent

    They could use biodegradable plastics only.
    What that plastic bag around your veggies is filled with is pure nitrogen to keep your food from rotting and growing fuzz before you open to eat it.
    This is a good thing reducing waste and costs for our foods.

  24. avatar
    Ivan

    Yes there are better alternatives available, why not use them? I assume this is just about oil-based plastic and not bioplastics.

    • avatar
      Tony

      Bioplastics aren’t as great as often claimed, some still leave behind microplastics, and the ones that don’t are very weak and not appropriate for packaging.

      But we don’t even need the packaging, as packaging free stores illustrate beautifully.

  25. avatar
    Phil

    The reality is that plastic won’t be banned as there is a need for it for hygiene reasons in some cases. Just think of the supply chain network that food travels through… 1) potentially grown in and transported through countries outside the EU where the food safety regulations may be different, 2) transported on ships, 3) transported by road in the EU, 4) stored in supermarket back rooms until needed for the shop floor… however, can alternatives be found? Probably. Do we need to sell cabbages both in and out of plastic next to each other? No.

    • avatar
      Serena

      But when fruit and vegetables travel, they are not packaged, they are just for us, to look neat at the supermarket. You need to wash them anyways. I always prefer to buy the unpackaged produce.

  26. avatar
    Anna

    Is that a question?? It is long time overdue to find and use biodegradable packaging materials.

  27. avatar
    Sky

    Absolutely, there are plenty of alternatives.

  28. avatar
    Joanne

    Absolutely. I can’t understand what we’re waiting for. The planet is already submersed by it.

  29. avatar
    Giuseppina

    Les déchets plastiques ils en font quoi???comme les déchets nucléaires?!c’est trop tard.

  30. avatar
    Tony

    Remember all the sick people in Germany when a cat had peed on the veggies ….. ????

    • avatar
      Paul X

      Actually I don’t, but all vegetables should the thoroughly washed before use whatever it comes wrapped in…do you imagine all the migrant fruit and vegetable pickers working in the fields wash their hands thoroughly after they have been to the toilet?

  31. avatar
    Melina

    EU as it is today should be banned !!!

  32. avatar
    Nanna

    Yes!
    Wrapping can be made from maize or hemp, so why not make the switch?

  33. avatar
    Alex

    No. It should not be banned, but guided to be used only when necessary – for products where packaging durability and robustness matters, for example. Some of it’s applications have no alternatives yet, and in some cases – changing the packaging will mean a disproportionate increase in prices, which is unacceptable for consumers.

  34. avatar
    gino vanloy

    complete stop on plastics, in stages of just a few years! first of all the individual packaging of food should be immidiately stopped! Bring in standard paachaging model for tranport of food like a brand that has expieriance as tupperware and delivers good quality! Collorcoded, Let packaging not influence the use of the product and by making it easy to polute more! Get the kapitalisme out of it and sell products that are judged on their quality not commercial ! Get rid of the hudge warehouses and give the world back to the people so we don’t need packaging to circle the world in ship’s or lorries! Micro economies are the future to survive the heating off the planet, not the greedy mass production industrial giants and it’s shareholders!

    • avatar
      Ryan Van Gysegem

      this could work in utopia. but in this capitalistic world it will never work.

      I think it should be replaced by BIOPLASTICS made from natural materials such as corn starch.
      Not to be confused with biodegradable plastics made from traditional PETROCHEMICALS, which are engineered to break down more quickly.
      This in combination with (recycled) paper bags (not from trees) would four fill the need for plastic in the modern society.
      http://www.explainthatstuff.com/bioplastics.html

  35. avatar
    Ryan Van Gysegem

    NO it should be replaced by BIOPLASTICS made from natural materials such as corn starch.
    Not to be confused with biodegradable plastics made from traditional PETROCHEMICALS, which are engineered to break down more quickly.
    This in combination with (recycled) paper bags (not from trees) would four fill the need for plastic in the modern society.
    http://www.explainthatstuff.com/bioplastics.html

  36. avatar
    Julie

    Banned. Already bio shops working very well with products « en vrac » (in bulk). Buyers must bring own reusable bags.
    Quality of tap water should also be guaranteed

  37. avatar
    Ivan

    It’s actually ‘International Mother Earth Day’, or is that a perpetuation of the patriarchy ?

  38. avatar
    Tessa

    Yes. End of story. And put grocers back into the shops instead of this ridiculous self checkout bs

  39. avatar
    Rawona

    We survived before without plastics. We used bayong , papers, and containers when go to wet market. They collect garbage without charging. So, why can’t we do it now?

  40. avatar
    Jere

    It’s not a simple question. Plastics are bad but proper use of plastic packaging help reduce food wastage. *Some* use of plastic containers is probably better than none at all.

  41. avatar
    James

    All food is wrapped in plastic, how else will you keep it in a grocery store?

    • avatar
      Bennie

      Unwrapped, just like the old days.

    • avatar
      James

      Soda is in plastic bottles and no glass bottles aren’t an option, cookies, dried fruit, sugar, other liquid, meat, meat should be in plastic not paper, fish, fish should be in plastic, bread, all is in plastic, even when not pre packed the butcher puts in plastic. Paper sucks fot wet and greasy food like meat and fish

  42. avatar
    Mark

    Require 100% biodegradable materials by 2025 or so and let the industry decide what works best, plastic or not.

  43. avatar
    Matty

    Yes it should….will it save the human race?….no, it’s game over

  44. avatar
    Jay

    It should be banned, yes; now it’s not that easy (don’t bite my head off). All of the plastics? Well, I ask: are there alternatives? Some; yes. In grocery stores, you can use paper packaging for perishable, dry produce: fruits, veggies; or crystal containers for unperishable produce: beans, dried herbs, pasta, etc. It’s especially useful to offer “loose”, self-weighted, by the score, in bulk products. You can either bring the containers from home, or again—paper bags. It can break? Yes; so can plastic. It’s hardier? Undoubtedly.
    But reusable plastics… It’s an issue of education and awareness. Yes, I do into a store and buy fruit and put them in little plastic bags; but I’ve been keeping them for months and I’ve been reusing them for months. Maybe it’s something we do in Spain, but it so often happens that in every house, there’s a plastic bag for plastic bags that we keep. We are already keeping bags “just in case”. I just simply pack my backpack with some plastic bags when I’m off to the store and use them, and use them, and use them. Until they break; or not. And I’m proud of that little gesture.
    Single use plastics? That’s another issue just by itself… I can use the container where strawberries are sold, for example; but there’s a second plastic they’re wrapped in. That plastic is ripped off and thrown away. Goodbye. And I understand that’s really unnecessary, but it’s easy for many.
    For example, I like sesame seed bars—and they’re wrapped in plastic. For one use and one use only: to be ripped off. And they’re mass produced. Industrially. And that’s how the system is. What is the alternative for this seed bars & energy bars, biscuits, sugar cereals, muffins, etc, etc and etc, that come in plastic wrappings? Sweets? Candy? Doritos? Mass produced, for one consumption, single use… I can’t go back with an open Dorito package and get more Doritos.
    So yes, ban plastics. Ban and make the system better. Tell people to reuse plastic bags. Stop putting veggies into plastic bags, more self-weighted, by the score produce. Paper bags. Hardier, recycled big bags… Etc.
    The problem with plastic is the waste. It generates direct and indirect waste. We’ve all had that 6 unit package of lettuce rotting at the back of the fridge. (It’s lettuce, a red pepper, some tomatoes; someone had a veg rot for a while in the fridge. I’m sure). We decided to eat healthy and held on for a week. And ate through 3 lettuce tender hearts. Then 1 dries up but the other liquifies. And it ends up in the rubbish. Or the 250 g of red beans (or pasta, or rice), which we’ve been cooking for 2 months straight, but a shy handful sits in its plastic bag for 2 years. They harden, they become useless, uncookable. And again to the rubbish. It’s not only plastic—it’s a system of “standard packaging” that’s easy, but doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us like eating a lot of beans; others eat them twice a year. We both buy 250 g packages (for example)… What about that?

    • avatar
      Jay

      What do you think, Aramis?

    • avatar
      Aramis

      I agree that plastic should be banned for as many products as possible. And if not, people should be much more conscious of what they do when they use it. Recycling is so easy and free, and plastic can be reused and so can cans.

  45. avatar
    Frank

    I don’t think you can ban plastic packaging without a sustainable solution. I also think it’s rubbish that household waste doesn’t end up in the environment. The vast majority of plastic packaging cannot be recycled and that is very frustrating for those of us who actually care.

  46. avatar
    Carmen

    Yes they should ban all plastic im fed up of sow much package everywhere I go !!!

  47. avatar
    Anna

    Yes for sure banned!
    If needed use the plastic-feel-alike wjich is bio-degradable :-)

  48. avatar
    Christiane Rüping

    I agree with the fact that plastic garbage should be avoided.

  49. avatar
    Ivan

    And replaced with paper bags ……… Oh wait, what about the forests ???? 8|

    • avatar
      Robin

      Bamboo can be grown, it’s fast to grow, cheap, and can be used for paper profuction.

    • avatar
      Karin

      biodegradable plastic for furniture cushions, insulation, packaging and other products by converting casein into a biodegradable material that matches the stiffness and compressibility of polystyrene. Also hemp and millet are an alternative.

    • avatar
      Ivan

      Robin
      But you would have to chop down all the forests to create bamboo fields & bamboo is tropical so wouldn’t grow in Europe which would mean another million people made unemployed and yet more industries and therefore National income lost.

      Sorry, just not seeing the solution with bamboo. 8|

    • avatar
      Ivan

      Karin Lodge Agreed but people freak out when they hear the word ‘plastic’. Maybe they should call it something else, something like ‘paper replacement material (PRM)’. But someone will probably find a problem with that too because of the fact you still need to petroleum & gas to make it.

  50. avatar
    Manuel

    Yes, why not? A good substitute of the plastic bags would be bags made of fabric, like cotton, so we could even adapt (or reuse) them to our underwear :)

    • avatar
      Jose

      Com todo devido respeito. Mas se todos nos tivessemos, educaçao,cultura,etc,etc. QUANTAS TONELADAS DE PLASTICO,SE POUPARIAO? Porque todos sabemos que o plastico,nunca se vai acabar.Ou nao? Mesmo ja li um artigo,que fui,inventado um plastico,que se desfaz.Penso que os engº quimicos,tem uma palavra a dizer.Nem que seja ,educacao/cultura para o povo, para assim diminuir o consumo drasticamente.E havendo essa responsabilidade do povo,ja nao iria para certos sitos os plasticos,e talvez se degradassem de outra maneira masi higienica, e saudavel.

    • avatar
      Manuel

      Dear Jose everything will finish, either the sun will explode in the very long future. Then we can only delay this end.
      Recycling is the way nature works and our society must find ways of recycling the wasted materials into new materials.

    • avatar
      Jose

      Manuel que vai estoirar, mas día menos día,estoy de acordo. Mas a reciclagem,sem educacao e cultura, nao acredito.

    • avatar
      Ivan

      You do know what your pc &/or mobile phone are made of right ?

    • avatar
      Christian

      Of course, but here we talk about packaging, right?

    • avatar
      Ivan

      Christian, You either care about not using plastic or you do not, you can’t cherry pick 8|

    • avatar
      Christian

      Ivan, you can either move to one direction, do nothing or move to opposite direction. I think, if you can make a change, make it. Obviously we are so much dependent on materials that are harmful to environment, but not all of it is necessary and could be reduced easily (e.g single use plastic bags, plastic toothbrushes, containers etc.). Some things are more challenging.

    • avatar
      Ivan

      Christian
      10,000 plastic bags = 1 Tv case or 20 mobile phone cases or 40 nail varnish caps so reducing plastic bag use while massively increasing consumer production across the board is meaningless, but at least it makes it easier for some people to engage in virtual signalling.

      Without plastic there can be no modern Western Civilization so be careful what you wish for.

      We should be concentrating on its disposal after use, not ending its production.

  51. avatar
    Nikolas

    There is edible “plastic” !! Of with all this obsollete literature …

  52. avatar
    Robert

    Not yet, no. It would make life more expensive, it would hurt exactly the poorest of us. Plastic is good, I like my plastic. If the rich really want a clean habitat, they should pay for having it. The poor have other priorities. But all is good, because where’s a need, there’s a business opportunity too.

    • avatar
      Aris

      Róbert, it is better to start thinking of your kids and grandkids and not your wallet on such issues.
      I am not rich but I can afford to live without plastic bags and things like that..

    • avatar
      Róbert

      Of course I value the future of my kids too, but I still can’t see why limiting our options would be the way to go, instead of finding ways for solving the problems caused by technological progress. Plastic is cheap and useful, we should concentrate on perfecting ways to live with it safely. And we will, ’cause there’s profit in it. Waste collection and recycling is a booming business and it will constantly improve. Thinking with your wallet is usually the best and most rational way of thinking. Save for a few exceptions, of course. Thinking with your heart instead of your head, deciding how others should live their lives, based on feelings, is not.

  53. avatar
    Ivan

    Maybe we should ban the corn inside the bag as they are terrible for the environment.

  54. avatar
    Ivan

    Are you looking forward to the release of the first plastic free mobile phone after Brussels bans plastic ? 8|

  55. avatar
    Aris

    We should ban plastic and replace it with something else..
    Plastic pollutes the environment too much

  56. avatar
    Alex

    If and when a material that provides the same qualities that are expected and needed from plastic packaging with a similar price tag – then it’s worth considering. Not before.

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