A few months ago, the government gave the green light to the draft of the new Waste Law, aimed to boost a circular economy, improve waste management, and fight pollution. This proposed legislation establishes, for the first time in Spanish law, constraints on certain single-use plastics, restricting the introduction of some of them in the market. Also, specific taxes have been established to promote the reduction of non-reusable plastic packaging. The indirect tax rate will be 0.45 euros per kilogram of packaging and will be levied on the manufacture, import or intra-Community acquisition of the non-reusable packaging.
Single-use plastic products subject to the regulation include drinking glasses, lids and caps included, and food containers, such as boxes, with or without lids, used to contain food intended for immediate consumption, on the spot or for take-away. The commercialisation of this kind of products must be reduced by 50% by 2026 vs. 2022; and by 2030, by a 70%, also compared to 2022.
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Likewise, England has just banned companies from offering disposable plastic straws, sticks and stirrers. Canada will also ban the use of some products, such as straws or grocery bags, by the end of 2021 as part of its government plan to stop generating plastic waste by 2030. Another example is the e-commerce giant Amazon, which will also stop selling single-use plastic items, straws, cotton swabs, plates, cutlery, and glasses in its virtual shops in the European Union, United Kingdom and Turkey from 21 December.
By 2030 the use of single-use plastics must be reduced a 70% and recycling is key
All this highlights the key process: recycling. All the agents involved in the commercialisation must encourage the use of reusable alternatives, since the solution must be linked to that aspect, i.e., the search for techniques that allow plastics to be reused, and not in completely eliminating its use. In fact, one of the key aspects of the new drafted law has to do with design. For example, it requires that the caps and fittings that remain attached to the PET container or bottles should be made of 25-30% recycled plastic. Therefore, it is extremely important to bet on innovation to develop recycling techniques that did not exist previously.
RepetCo Innovations has achieved this with multi-layer PET/PE containers of post-consumer origin. Previously, they could not be recycled and ended up in containers or incinerators and, thanks to its factory, these containers will be delaminated for sustainable reuse. Recycling is so important that many of the large Spanish companies are working in this direction, and must continue to do so. Such is the case of Mercadona, which recently announced its commitment to make all its plastic packaging recyclable by 2025. Within its Strategy 6.25 it is also committed to provide useful information to customers to help them in this process.
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Five myths about the environmental impact of single-use plastics
Related to the increased constraints on the use of single-use plastics are the doubts regarding what the real impact on the environment might be. It is true that there is an excessive amount of this kind of plastics, evident by simply looking around the supermarket aisles. However, it is worth emphasising once again that simply through the process of recycling, this impact can be reduced and minimised. The production and disposal of single-use plastics often represents only a small percentage of the environmental impact of a product during its life cycle as Shelie Miller, an environmental engineer at the University of Michigan (USA), states in an article on the Professional Waste website.
Miller explains how consumers tend to look at the impact of the packaging and not so much at that of the product itself. However, “conscious consumption that reduces the need for products and eliminates waste is much more effective in reducing overall environmental impact than recycling,” she states. Therefore, in the article ‘Five Misperceptions Surrounding the Environmental Impacts of Single-Use Plastic’, the engineer tries to discredit five of the most common misperceptions:
- Plastic packaging is the largest contributor to the environmental impact of a product: This is not the case, as the product inside the packaging usually has a higher environmental impact than the packaging itself.
- The environmental impact of plastics is greater than that of any other packaging material: This is also incorrect, as plastic generally has a lower overall environmental impact than glass or single-use metal in most impact categories.
- Reusable products are always better than single-use plastics: this statement is correct, but they must be reused enough times to compensate for the materials and energy used to manufacture them.
- Recycling and composting should be the first priority: although the benefits of recycling and composting are many, there is always a need to aim at reducing overall consumption.
- ‘Zero waste’ strategies that eliminate single-use plastics minimise the environmental impacts of an event: Waste reduction and conscious consumption, including careful consideration of the types and quantities of products consumed, are far more important factors dictating the environmental impact of an event.
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