Goal 14 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is the requirement to find ways to conserve our seas and only find sustainable ways to exploit them. Recognition of the damage ‘single-use’ plastics are doing to our oceans suggests achieving this goal is a long way off. SGS helps explain the problem and some of the global initiatives being enforced to protect our waters.
It was estimated the global production of plastic in 2017 reached around 348 million tonnes. The European Union (EU) contributed an estimated 64.4 million tonnes – a rise of 3.4% on 2016. Its ubiquity in our lives stems from its high functionality and relative cheapness. It is ideal for a wide range of products, many of which we readily discard as single-use. It is probable that 80-85% of all marine litter in the EU is plastic, with over 50% of that being single-use plastic.
‘Single-use’ has become a buzzword. The UK dictionary compiler Collins chose ‘single-use’ as its word of the year from a corpus of over 4.5 billion words in 2018. In part this stems from consumer’s recognition of the problem of plastics. Prominent programs, such as the BBC’s Blue Planet II, have brought the damage plastic is doing to our oceans into our living rooms. This is a global recognition – it is estimated over 80 million people downloaded Blue Planet II in China. It is clear consumers are starting to wake up to the potentially devastating effects of plastic and companies are having to take note.
Authorities are also beginning to introduce initiatives to reduce the use of single-use plastic. The European Parliament approved a ban on single-use plastics in October 2018, which is expected to come into effect in 2021. It calls for a complete ban on single-use plastic items by 2021, if an alternative exists – e.g. plastic plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton buds. If no alternative currently exists, consumption in Member States must reduce by 25% by 2025. For cigarette filters, the amount of plastic must reduce by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.
The South Korean Ministry of Environment has also announced an initiative to reduce waste from stores to zero percent by 2027. Issued in September 2018, this initiative encourages businesses and individuals to engage in ‘precycling’ – a proactive decision to not use wasteful products such as plastic straws and single-use cups. This is already being trialed by various corporations, for example major international coffee chains.
Island nations that rely on the sea are, unsurprisingly, also leading the way in regulating single-use plastic. Vanuatu announced a ban on plastic bags and bottles in July 2018. The Republic of Seychelles banned polystyrene boxes, plastic bags and utensils in 2017 and plastic straws on January 1, 2019.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Kenya, France and the US city of Seattle, among others, have all introduced bans on plastics, with other countries, such as Japan, currently looking at proposals to introduce bans.
Independent of the EU ruling, in 2016 France had already introduced a law forbidding disposable plastic tableware, such as plates, cups and glasses. This rule did allow compostable dishes containing bio-based materials – 50% by January 2020 and rising to 60% by January 2025. France is now looking at further prohibitions on plastic articles such as straws, coffee stirrers, plastic cup covers, etc.
Measures to combat single-use plastic are relatively recent. Stakeholders need to be alert of governmental changes that are occurring all the time. They should also be proactive in finding alternative materials for their products to stay ahead of governmental and consumer demands.
SGS’s has extensive experience of testing materials and articles in contact with food. Their experts ensure products meet appropriate regulations for food contact materials and can help find suitable alternatives to single-use plastics. Learn more about SGS’s
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Udo Krischke
Global Technical Manager, Restricted Substances Testing Services
SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 97,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,600 offices and laboratories around the world.