By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
The following ABC news report caught my eye – an unintentional parody of the lack of urgency governments are collectively devoting to prevent drowning ourselves in plastics waste, Countries take steps toward curbing plastic waste in oceans:
An intergovernmental conference has taken early steps toward drawing up an agreement to curb plastic pollution and marine litter around the world, which can choke off sea life, harm food safety and coastal tourism, and contribute to climate change.
A draft resolution presented by Peru and Rwanda, and backed by the European Union and several other countries, at the end of a two-day Geneva conference on Thursday amounts to a procedural step, but one that aims to build momentum for drawing up language as early as next year on a binding global deal.
The draft, which mostly aims to set up a committee to negotiate the language of a possible accord, is expected to be considered at a U.N. Environment Assembly meeting in February.
Supporters hope to unify fragmented efforts to curb such waste around the world. They hope to take into account the full lifecycle of plastics — from production to consumption to waste management, treatment and prevention.
“The end goal, or the target, is to have zero waste,” said Oliver Boachie, a special adviser to the government of Ghana, which co-organized the conference with Ecuador, Germany and Vietnam. More than 1,000 representatives from over 140 countries took part, along with advocacy groups.
Boachie told reporters there were no holdouts among countries, but that some unspecified countries were still assessing prospects for an accord and drawing up national policies on the matter. There were no “fixed positions,” he said, expressing optimism that countries will eventually “come around.”
An agreement could be built around legislation in more than 120 countries — including European Union member states and nearly three dozen African countries — that restricts or bans single-use plastics. But some countries are hesitant: For example, Japan has expressed opposition to a binding deal — preferring a voluntary solution — and the United States has resisted calls for a ban on single-use plastics.
“There was no illusion that this would be a piece of cake,” Boachie said.
Jerri-Lynn here. No, no piece of cake. One can’t say these talks are going nowhere, but where ever they’re going, it’s at a snail’s pace.
I found this news out of Geneva to be profoundly depressing – especially the resistance from the U.S. and Japan to ban single use plastics.
Yet recent plastics news out of Moscow and London is marginally more encouraging – although unfortunately, the scope and timing also doesn’t respond to the urgency of the situation. Per The Moscow Times, Russia to Fully Ban Single-Use Plastic Products By 2024 – Minister:
Russia plans to ban the use of disposable plastics by 2024, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Alexander Kozlov said Thursday.
Banned goods would include disposable plastic straws, plates, glasses, lids and appliances; coffee capsules; cotton swabs; opaque and colored PET (thermoplastic polyester) bottles; boxes and packs for tobacco products; blister packaging (except for medicines); egg cartons; and several types of bags.
“We’re proposing to introduce the ban gradually so production can be reorganized. In 2024, the ban should be final,” the state-run TASS news agency quoted Kozlov as saying on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.
Kozlov said his ministry and the Industry and Trade Ministry are coordinating on the list of 28 disposable plastic products that would fall under the ban
He also suggested finding alternatives to single-use plastics such as packaging made from natural materials like wood or paper.
“We suggest replacing opaque plastic bottles with transparent ones that are easy to recycle. Disposable plates can be made from pulp cartons; straws can be made of wood or replaced with special paper ones. All these technologies exist and are already being used,” Kozlov said.
In May, Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko said the government plans to impose a legislative ban on certain types of plastic products, including straws, cotton swabs and disposable tableware.
The UK has moved forward with a more modest ban, on single use plastic cutlery, according to the BBC, Government to ban single-use plastic cutlery:
The government has announced plans to ban single-use plastic cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups in England as part of what it calls a “war on plastic”.
Ministers said the move would help to reduce litter and cut the amount of plastic waste in oceans.
A consultation on the policy will launch in the autumn – although the government has not ruled out including other items in the ban.
But environmental activists said more urgent and wider action was needed.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have plans to ban single-use plastic cutlery, and the European Union brought in a similar ban in July – putting ministers in England under pressure to take similar action.
On average, each person in England uses 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 single-use plastic items of cutlery every year, according to government figures.
I understand that banning single use plastics is only a first step towards slowing the plastics juggernaut. Perhaps it’s mere virtue signalling. I prefer to think of it as plucking low-hanging fruit. Yet even this limited measure won’t be enacted immediately. Per the BBC:
But the ban may take over a year to become law, with legislation needing to go through Parliament, and it is understood it could be April 2023 before it comes into force.
Jo Morley, from the campaign group City to Sea, told the BBC she welcomed the news but it was “just the tip of the iceberg”.
She added: “We need the government to go much, much, much further, we are facing a plastics crisis and we need to turn off the tap.
“We are really facing an environmental crisis, our oceans are full of plastic, and they’re killing marine life, they are damaging our eco-systems and they are actually threatening human health.”
Kierra Box from Friends of the Earth echoed the concerns.
She said: “We need government to take an overall approach to say that what we are going to do is bring an end to all plastic pollution, and what we’re going to do is drastically reduce the amount of all single-use products, not just a fork followed by a spoon followed by a cup.”
A far, far more difficult challenge than adopting these single use plastics bans would be eliminating – or at least drastically curtailing – the use of unnecessary plastics packaging. I’m old enough to remember a world where everything wasn’t swathed in superfluous plastic. I also remember quite clearly my high School English teacher, Mr. Gordon Muir, lamenting the waste in fast food packaging when the first McDonald’s opened in Newton, NJ, in the mid-1970s.
We lived without plastic packaging before. And we can do so again. Some companies are already showing how. Others would no doubt follow if governments were to ban most plastics packaging – or to make users of plastic packaging responsible for its disposal.
Allow me to close with an anecdote. Last week, I ordered some canning jars from Weck. I like Weck Jars. They secure their glass lids via removable clips. The advantage of this system is that it allows the user to place jar and lid in the dishwasher, without corroding the fasteners.
Anyway, when I opened the large box containing the jars, I was pleased with what I saw. Weck packs its jars inside cardboard boxes, 6 or 12 jars to the box (depending on the size of the jar), and these boxes are then surrounded by corrugated cardboard and placed inside the larger shipping box. The cardboard cushions the contents against jostling in transit. Alas, this system still produces waste. But at least it’s not plastics waste. And I can’t think of a better way of shipping fragile glass containers. I’ve stopped introducing any new plastic into my kitchen; Weck jars are also useful for storing leftovers.
So, Weck’s packaging system shows what can be done if a company decides to eschew plastic packaging. And if their system works to protect fragile glass jars, it could be more widely applied to other products.