By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
A Plastic Planet launched a new campaign yesterday to close a loophole in the UK’s Environment Bill, to extend its coverage to include plastic sachets – thus far excluded from the legislation.
The Bill combines a system of extended producer responsibility for many types of plastic packaging and imposes charges on certain items.
These sachets have also been omitted from the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive, which is set to ban a plethora of single use, throwaway items by 2021, including plastic shopping bags, straws cutlery, and takeaway containers.
As Business Green reports in ‘Sack the sachet’: New campaign urges government to close plastic legislation ‘loophole’:
“In recent years governments and business have gone all out to enforce a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and even bags,” said A Plastic Planet Co-Founder Sian Sutherland. “And yet the plastic sachet, the ultimate symbol of our grab and go, convenience-addicted lifestyle, has been virtually invisible to all. The result? Our earth is saturated with these uncollectable, unrecyclable, contaminated, valueless little packets.
“It’s time to close the legal loophole. Now more than ever before we have to Sack The Sachet.”
Alongside the launch of the new campaign, the group published an analysis showing that that the 855 billion sachets used each year globally are enough to cover the entire surface of the Earth. Similarly, if you placed a year’s worth of sachets end to end, they would stretch 72 million kilometres – equivalent to 189 trips from earth to the moon. With sachets in wide use for condiments, shampoos, and other products the world is set to go through a trillion sachets by 2030.
A number of hotel chains have replaced single-use plastic liquid soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, and body lotion packaging with reusable, refillable bottles. i’m just guessing here, but I believe once the cost for the transition away from throwaway hotel-size toiletries is paid – those refillable bottles don’t come free, after all – the hotelier saves money.
These single sachets are ubiquitous in developing countries, where they are very popular – as their small size means they can be sold cheaply. Thus far, they are not included in the single use plastic bans recently adopted by China, and mulled by India, where the Modi government shied away from implementing such a ban last October, as had been widely expected (see Plastics Watch: China to Ban Single-Use Plastics, Malaysia Rejects Waste Shipments).
I’m not a credulous believer in miraculous technofixes. Yet given the economic reality that small, inexpensive portions are popular, outright bans are unlikely to work – particularly in places with low per capita incomes. Instead, what seems promising is the possibility of a shift to edible or biogradeable sachets made from seaweed. And not just in developing countries. The UK’s Just Eat chain has recently partnered with Unilever to package Hellmann’s sauces in seaweed-based sachets, according to the Guardian, UK must act to stamp out ‘curse’ of plastic sachets, say campaigners.
Support has popped up on social media for the ban.I note that there’s also recognition of the reason poor people use sachets, according to an account in Packaging Gateway, A Plastic Planet leads campaign to ban plastic sachets:
The campaign has gained traction on social media, using the hashtag #SackTheSachet. Walker, on Twitter, said that he was proud to support the campaign and that plastic sachets have been “flying under the radar”.
Twitter user Amber said: “#SackTheSachet another appalling addiction of ours, wretched sachets. We use so many annually (855 billion!) we could literally cover the surface of the Earth. What a legacy.”
Twitter user Madeleine Cuff said: “If we are going to #SackTheSachet we need to find an alternative way to provide the poorest in the world with affordable access to consumer goods like shampoo and washing detergent.”
I note, however, we should be cautious here: some highly-touted technofixes have proven to be failures (see Plastic Watch: Debunking the Technofix Fairy, Biodegradable Bags Don’t Degrade). It’s foolhardy to count on them as panaceas, particularly if they are rolled out prematurely. Yet I recognize that there will be roles technology must play in the ongoing war on plastic.
I’ll also note in passing it’s unlikely that we’ll return to a world of standalone cafes and sit-down meals, with their full-size house or table side ketchup, mustard, and sauce bottles. And that system had its difficulties, too. There’s a scene in Brighton Rock – IIRC- where a waiter carefully replaces unused brown sauce from someone’s plate back into the serving bottle. No one’s arguing for that solution, no matter how much it’s now necessary to reduce, reuse, recycle!
Other Problems With Teeny Weeny Plastic Containers
What about beyond sachets? I see no mention of those little plastic containers — a bit larger than thimbles, which restaurants use to package portions of their own condiments with take-out orders. Or the minuscule milk, cream, or non-dairy creamer portions places hand out with coffee? I’ve been unable to determine whether they fall within the definition of sachet – and as A Plastic Planet’s website is under construction, that provides no help.
What can we do about those? If they’re not on the radar, they should be.
Nor is there any discussion of my particular bête noire, the plastic pods for home espresso machines, which are also becoming more common in hotels. George Clooney famously endorses Nespresso: really George? I see he’s still doing so – although the company occasionally causes him concern. Child labour is certainly a concern, but how about attention to the company’s environmental footprint, George Clooney ‘saddened’ by allegations of Nespresso child labor. I believe it is now, at least in theory, possible to rerecycle the capsules. Yet as regular readers know, clicking one’s heels three times and repeating recycle, recycle, recycle is no solution (see also George Clooney Nespresso Deal is Worth $40 Million).
Now, one can eschew the plastic pods completely and get one’s java fix in many cafes. There the issue is the throwaway cups out such coffee is still served in and which pose formidable recycling challenges. So one should ask for one’s coffee to be served in a proper ceramic cup, or port one’s one container. Or brew at home. My husband is partial to a moka pot – which I admit I’ve never mastered. I prefer a French press.
Do we really need espresso pods? Making coffee at home generates lots of grounds, but these can be composted, or used otherwise in the garden for acid-loving plants.
New York Plastic Bag Ban
At last, the city that never sleeps implements a ban on single-use shopping bags. During my youth, we survived without this scourge. And we’ll no doubt learn to make do without this modcon again.
The NY Post publish a helpful primer, New York’s plastic bag ban starts this week — here’s what you need to know. The new policy bans plastic bags at most types of stores, and applies to all retail establishments that collect sales tax, including grocery stores. Shops are allowed to charge a 5 cent fee for a paper bag.
New York aims to reduce litter and help protect its wildlife by imposing the ban; the state uses 23 billion plastic bags are per annum, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, as reported by the Post.
It’s difficult to be overly enthused by this small step – when there is so much more that must be done. And I am depressed about the prospects for much more meaningful change, given that Big Oil has ambitious plans to ramp up plastics production – as I previously discussed in Plastic Watch: Congress Considers Bill to Impose Extended Producer Responsibility, AKA ‘You Break It, You Buy It’). As long as that’s their game plan, we’ll be engaged in ongoing whack-a-mole efforts to clamp down or eliminate new uses for the plastic plastic pushers are hellbent on producing and selling.