Over the last several decades, plastic has been an essential part of our life on Earth. While this material could have numerous benefits because of its durability and versatility, the overconsumption of single-use plastics has led to an alarming increase in pollution rates globally.
A recent report by the UN Environment Programme, assessing global marine litter and plastic pollution, concludes that while we have the necessary knowledge and expertise to cope with this striking issue, we still need more political action and support. Currently, about 11 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. Without taking any actions, this number will triple by 2040.
But what was achieved in 2021 and what can we do more?
The past 12 months have witnessed a significant increase in legislation to reduce the growing plastic pollution on Earth.
The United States introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2021, outlining major plastic reduction strategies to ensure a more sustainable future on our planet. The federal legislation aims to eliminate single-use plastics as well as to hold the plastic industry responsible for the waste it creates.
In May 2021, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee signed the 2021 plastics law (Senate Bill 5022), which will be phased in over several years. The law aims to minimize the use of some plastics as well as to promote the development of new markets for recyclable plastics. Additionally, the state is the first in the United States to require minimum recycled content for plastic products like bottles and jugs, starting with 15% recycled content in 2025 and increasing it to 50% by 2031.
Similarly, in California, Senator Newsom made a significant step in October 2021, when he signed legislation banning the use of misleading recycling labels and supporting additional measures to reduce single-use trash pollution and recycling goals. The state also banned the use of toxic PFASs in products for children as well as in disposable food packaging. California also plans to include USD 270 million to promote circularity as part of the Governor’s historic USD 15 billion climate package.
In 2021, Canada declared plastic a “toxic” substance, paving the way for banning single-use plastics by the end of 2022. In December 2021, the Canadian government announced that draft regulations on the topic have been published for public comment.
In July 2021, Germany banned the sale of single-use plastic straws, cutlery, food containers and cotton buds. This move is in line with an European Union directive aiming to reduce plastic waste. Similarly, France announced that it will disallow plastic packaging for almost all fruits and vegetables from January 2022. Other measures, like installing water fountains to eliminate plastic bottles, are to be introduced in the next couple of years.
India stated back in 2017 that the country would eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022. In August 2021, the country’s government announced a ban on single-use plastics, which will take effect from July 1, 2022.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted a regional action plan to combat marine plastic waste between 2021 and 2025. The plan involves a solution-focused common strategy to tackle alarming issues ASEAN countries are facing in terms of ocean pollution. Some of the major actions include the elimination single-use plastics, the stimulation of recycling and the strengthening the regional monitoring of marine debris.
The Global Commitment 2021 Progress Report shows that businesses accounting for a quarter of all plastic packaging globally are gradually progressing towards circularity in terms of their plastic usage. By 2025, the usage of virgin plastic is set to decrease by 20% as compared to 2018, thus avoiding about 8 million tons of virgin plastic – the equivalent to keeping 40 million barrels of oil in the ground.
Of course plastic reduction measures are far from perfect but after all – every step matters and eventually becomes a change!