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Are Bans on Single-Use Plastic effective?
By: Zhihan Jiang
Following the bans on single-use plastic such as plastic bags and straws, plastic has been disappearing and being replaced by plastic products, but does this really help with our waste?
Australia has banned plastic bags since 2018, and in France, plastics are banned on fresh fruits and vegetables. India also followed the UK with a ban on straws, cutlery, and food packaging. Paper straws, although not made of plastic, still end up in the incinerator to be burned for energy or in landfills.
"Plastic can sometimes be the best option," Romane Osadnik, an account manager at CITEO says, "especially in the food industry. Film wraps and plastic bags that seal food [like cucumber wraps] preserve the quality of the food and are lightweight options."
"Plastic is most commonly replaced with cardboard," Osadnik says, "but food can be damaged more easily in cardboard causing more food waste in transport, and it weighs much heavier [which] means in turn that more lorries are needed to carry the same quantity of product. Transport weighs heavily in the life cycle of food. In the end, it often turns out to be more polluting to use cardboard wrapping than plastic, when the entire food production chain is taken into account."
We produced 2 billion tons of solid waste in 2018, and 275 million tons of that was from plastic waste. The majority of that waste was 141 million tons of plastic packaging, while there was only 42 million tons of plastic textile, the second largest source of plastic waste.
Up to 56% of plastic is recycled in Germany, being closely followed by South Korea, Wales, and Austria. Other countries, however, don't do so well. 15% of plastic go to recycling, but some of it is rejected due to contamination or other issues. In the end, only 9% of the plastic is recycled. Metals, on the other hand, have a 100% recycling rate.
The large amount of plastic waste also has an effect on our health. Plastics leach chemicals called “endocrine disruptors”, which can change how hormones are used in our bodies.
Plastics are also sometimes coated in polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which have also been linked to several diseases.