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!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) / BigStock – Siriporn2525
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146 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. 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. Pedro

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

  3. Tiziana

    Of course
    …it’s up to us…

    • Eugenio

      If there are alternatives then yes

  4. Sandrine

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

  5. 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…

    • Anne

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

    • 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

    • 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

    • 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. Rene

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

  7. Boris

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

  8. Sam

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

  9. Alan

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

  10. 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

    • 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.

    • 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. John

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

  12. 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. Rodger

    Yes, now require bio degradable or organic.

  14. 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

    • 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.

    • Iris-Marie

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

  15. 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. Kayt

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

    • 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.

    • 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. 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. Bassie

    Use biodegradable plastics instead.

  19. 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.

    • Daniel

      What a stupid reaction is that

    • Brecht

      As stupid as the question. Learn to read

  20. Robert

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

  21. Jay

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

  22. Maddalena

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

  23. 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. Ivan

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

    • 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. 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.

    • 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. Anna

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

  27. Sky

    Absolutely, there are plenty of alternatives.

  28. Joanne

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

  29. Giuseppina

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

  30. Tony

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

    • 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. Melina

    EU as it is today should be banned !!!

  32. Nanna

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

  33. 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. 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!

    • 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. 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. 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. Ivan

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

  38. Tessa

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

  39. 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. 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. James

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

    • Bennie

      Unwrapped, just like the old days.

    • 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. Mark

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

  43. Matty

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

  44. 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?

    • Jay

      What do you think, Aramis?

    • 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. 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. Carmen

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

  47. Anna

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

  48. Christiane Rüping

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

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