Since the Covid-19 outbreak, we’ve seen plastic bans and waste reduction policies being revoked by governments and businesses. The impact of Covid-19 is indeed unprecedented, but the urgency to stop polluting our planet is still there. It’s therefore important that governments and businesses continue the journey they were on before Covid-19 hit. They were on a path to reduce plastic waste and become more circular. It’s beyond challenging, we realise that, but what we do now will define the future of our planet.
Concerns about safety and cross-contamination of the virus overrule almost everything, including managing the world’s climate crisis The US for example, has withdrawn the single-use plastic ban. This has resulted in a heightened demand for bottled water, plastic bags, packaging, and personal protective equipment such as face masks. In India, the Tamil Nadu province has revoked bans of single-use plastic bottles and bags in retail trade. The UK has suspended the plastic bag charge for online deliveries, which is expected to continue until September 2020. The European Plastics Converters, a trade association, has even called for the EU legislation on the reduction of single-use plastic to be put back a year because of Covid-19.
At Waste2Wear, reducing plastic waste is our mission for over ten years. Revoking government policies such as plastic bans, is a step backwards instead of forward. It’s our belief, that to be future proof, we have to take better care of our planet. Reducing plastic waste is one of the world’s biggest challenges in this respect.
In addition to the above, businesses and governments are also putting a hold on reusable plastic items. Some fast-food chains, including Starbucks and Tim Horton’s, have banned the use of reusable cups and food containers. A few states in the United States presently have “bottle bills”, or mandatory container buyback programs. Currently, eight out of these states have temporarily terminated enforcements that require retailers to participate in these container redemption programmes. Some states have banned reusable bags during the outbreak and even ordered retail stores to use single-use paper or plastic bags. Many grocery stores across Canada are now not allowing reusable bags into their stores.
We’re wondering and worrying, will governments ever return to the path of banning single-use plastics? Will they ever again encourage the use of reusable bags and drink-containers?
Unfortunately, it’s not only ‘reusable’ that is under pressure; recycling is too. Reduction of recycling is partly due to medical and managerial reasons amid Covid-19. However, another essential factor influencing this, is the enormous drop in oil prices. This subsequently depletes the value of recycled commodities relative to new materials. Without government mandates that require a minimum of recycled content in products, producing virgin plastic in processes using oil as a feedstock has now become far cheaper. The question is, to what extent are companies are able and willing to choose for greener, recycled options? Will we see more recycled content in worker uniforms, clothing collections, or upholstery and curtain collections? Or will companies decided to go for the cheaper, virgin fiber option despite the impact on the environment?
Before Covid-19, a large part of the world finally found its path to reducing plastic waste and implementing circularity. This journey has slowed down drastically, while the need to prevent plastic waste from polluting our planet is more urgent than ever. In today’s new reality, however challenging, we still believe everyone should take responsibility. To speak for ourselves, we will continue to take care of our precious planet.
This article is a serie of 3, written by from Monique Maissan, Founder and CEO of Waste2wear, for IPI Journal, Mumbai volume 7, June 2020