It seems as though each day brings a new headline about waste and plastics.

In the past seven days, there has been coverage of a “plastic-hungry enzyme” and Costa Coffee committed to establishing a disposable cup recycling scheme – perhaps even a ban on certain single-use plastics as early as 2019.

The fact that these stories gain column inches and air time clearly attests to the importance of these issues with the general public. Indeed they are important issues. And it is positive to see innovation and bold steps coming to the fore.

My interpretation though is that both the above announcements primarily deal with a post-consumption phase – they address what happens once the product has been used. There are two immediate challenges that this raises.

Firstly: consumption. The root cause of plastic pollution is our individual and collective consumption of disposable plastics. One only needs to walk into a high-street shop or supermarket to see how widely used single-use plastics are. It is relatively easy to argue that the full lifecycle cost of single-use plastic, including the environmental impact, is not reflected in the sale price. Yes there are fiscal measures that exist in the UK, such as the Producer Responsibility Obligations and a “carrier bag tax”, and yes they do have an effect on consumer behaviour. Yet 80 meters of cling film can be purchased for about £2: that’s less than 4 pence for a meter of disposable plastic that has a potential legacy of hundreds of years. Reducing our own consumption of plastics will go a long way to reducing the environmental impact of these materials

Secondly: infrastructure. Domestic waste processing capacity in the UK is seemingly insufficient to sustainably meet the demand. That Costa is willing to pay waste contractors substantially over the market rate points to the need for greater investment in infrastructure. This comes back to a need to fully establish a circular economy. There needs to be simplification of the materials used; products need to be designed with ease of reuse and recycling in mind; and collection and reprocessing systems need to work.

These points and more will form a core part of the debate at Commercial’s CSR Day in June.

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