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What are the latest on efforts to ban plastics? What kind of plastics are we talking about? Is it the plastics we use to have our food, carry our stuffs from the departmental stores or EVERYTHING  made of plastic? How many nations worldwide have instituted some kind of ban, and have these initiatives brought about awareness and act as a driver for bioplastics, the alternative for oil-based plastics?

Why plastics must be banned and what kind of plastic products are we talking about?

The trend towards banning plastic products comes in the wake of new findings regarding the extent and harm of plastic in our environment. Since plastic isn’t biodegradable, it ends up either in landfills or as litter on the landscape and in waterways and the ocean. Plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose and releases toxins into the soil and water in the process. The chart describes the sectoral consumption of plastics with packaging alone contributing to 35%.

Plastics are also the key contributor to our ever growing dependency on oil. However, this can be controlled with measures like reuse or recycle. But the habit of littering our environment with the disposable plastics can never be controlled until a drastic change is brought about, which is the banning of such plastics. While plastic bags are recyclable, recycling rates are dramatically low (3-5%).

Study reveals us that “Every minute, we use 2 million plastic bags globally. More often than not, we use these individual bags for a grand total of 12 minutes. Then they are tossed into landfill or the ocean, where they will never biodegrade. This throwaway culture that we’ve become accustomed to is severely damaging the world around us.”

 So, with regards to the banning of plastics, we debate about the ban of such disposable plastics that has huge potential to damage and litter our environment. These include the plastic bags – carry bags, waste collection bags, thin film wraps, mulch films and single use foodwares – spoon, fork, plates, cups.

How much of a replacement can bioplastics be?

Plastics are incredibly versatile, meeting a spectrum of needs for flexibility, cost and other parameters that substitute materials would be hard put to match. To tackle the litter problem associated with plastic bags, biodegradable plastic alternatives paved their way into the market. Initially, back when bioplastics came into existence, they miserably failed when pitted against the petro based plastic bags mainly due to two factors – Cost and Physical properties.

However, given advancements in the technologies, the bioplastic industry witnessed a significant rise in the innovations to cater to the consumer’s need for a sustainable alternative. Several bioplastic companies came out with distinct formulations to meet customized needs of various sectors where plastic carry bags are used. For eg. A bioplastic resin has been developed to manufacture biodegradable bags that has good mechanical strength. Another bioplastic firm came up with biodegradable mulch films that served as solution to the problems faced by farmers due to the plastics polluting cultivable lands.

Isn’t it better to use paper bags?

The process of making paper bags causes 70% more atmospheric pollution than plastic bags. Paper bags use 300% more energy to produce, and the process uses huge amounts of water and creates very unpleasant organic waste.

A stack of 1,000 new plastic carrier bags would be around 2 inches high, but a stack of 1,000 new paper grocery bags could be around 2 feet high. It would take at least seven times the number of trucks to deliver the same number of bags, creating seven times more transport pollution and road congestion.

 Also, because paper bags are not as strong as plastic, people may use two or three bags inside each other. Paper bags cannot normally be re-used, and will disintegrate if wet.

 We are in 2017 and at present, bioplastics have made a tremendous progress to compete equally against single use plastics, if not a win against petro based plastics used for the products discussed here. The key growth drivers for these bioplastics alternatives worldwide includes –

  • Mandates & regulations
  • Increasing eco-awareness among consumers
  • Corporates becoming more focused on sustainability
  • Technology stabilization
  • Cost reduction

With mandates and regulations listed out as one of the important driver for the growth of bioplastics, let’s have a look at the influence of legal framework on the growth of bioplastics

The market demand for bioplastics could expand to over 300,000 metric tons by 2020, given the right legal framework. An in-depth analysis of markets by nova-Institut, along with mandates and current legislation was carried out for Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, which showed that the legal framework and composting infrastructure in these states was a significant factor affecting market development in these states, by acting either as a hindrance or as the key driver for growth.

Italy

 

In 2015, when Europe enacted legislation to reduce the number of single-use carrier bags, Italy became the first country to promote the use of compostable plastic bags.
Germany

 

The German markets have been seriously hampered by the country’s unfavourable legislation on the waste generated that can be efficiently utilized for energy generation.
France In September 2016, France became first country to ban plastic cups and plates. A new French law will require all disposable tableware to be made from 50% biologically-sourced materials that can be composted at home by January of 2020. That number will rise to 60% by January of 2025.
China In Jan 2015, China’s ban on plastic bags and food service items in Jilin province created an unprecedented surge for bioplastics manufacturing in China
United States

 

The growth of bioplastics in the US regions have been influenced by the some of the popular legal frameworks in the following regions –

New York – Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act; retailers of stores are to establish in-store recycling programs that provide an opportunity for the customer to return clean plastic bags to be recycled.

District of Columbia – Ban on the use of disposable non-recyclable plastic carryout bags, and an imposition of fees on all other disposable carryout bags provided by certain retail stores.

California – As of July 1, 2015 certain large stores are prohibited from providing a single-use plastic carryout bag to a customer, unless the retailer makes that bag available for $0.10 and certain conditions are met.

India In March 2016, central govt. issued a notification containing new plastic waste management rules. The new rules increase minimum thickness for carry bags from 40 (as regulated under Plastic Waste Management Rules 2011) to 50 microns in size and stipulates minimum 50 microns for plastics sheets; these are to be implemented across the country within six months after preparing relevant by-laws.

The rules also stipulate that manufacture and use of non-recyclable multi-layered plastic bags will be phased out in 2 years.

Major Indian states with a little but significant growth in the use of biodegradable alternatives due to an effective plastic ban – Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh.

Visit http://storyofstuff.org/uncategorized/ban-the-bag/ to find out where plastic bags have been banned or taxed across the world.

 

Do these plastic bans remain effective? If not, what are the key reasons for the failure?

Despite these efforts to control the usage of plastic bags and the consequent degradation of the environment, many nations around the world have not been able to effectively implement the ban on plastic bags. In most parts, the bans have been ineffective due to various reasons, ranging from slack enforcement by the administration to lack of cost-effective alternatives. Also, there exists a common confusion prevalent in various countries worldwide i.e. “To ban or to tax” the use of plastic bags.

There is, therefore, a need to assess and compare the effectiveness of the ban on plastic carry bags.

Toxics link, an India NGO on environmental safety, has conducted an extensive assessment of the impact of the complete can on plastic carry bag in major cities of India. Do have a look at the comprehensive research work done on the effectiveness of the plastic ban – http://toxicslink.org/docs/Full-Report-Plastic-and-the-Environment.pdf

 Some of the key reasons for plastic bag failures worldwide –

  • The plastic ban took a drastic economic impact on the retailers, consumers, cities and the plastic manufacturers at various levels without an equivalent to plastic bags, which is almost impossible given the popularity of these single use cheap plastic bags.
  • The effectiveness of the plastic ban is drastically reduced when the ban is enforced only to large retail stores while the roadside stalls aren’t monitored effectively.
  • Many retailers replace plastic bags with paper bags, but study shows that consumers do not frequently reuse these bags. Also, to note that, paper bags use more energy and produce more greenhouse gas emissions than plastic bags. Jute and cloth bags are popular only in brand shops as their costs are high.
  • Failure to introduce any incentivized programs to encourage the reuse of conventional plastic bags to the consumers.
  • Issues with recyclability of alternative solutions like Biodegradable bags.

So, how powerful a “bioplastic market driver” the plastic ban is?

Much research still remains to be done to achieve the best sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. But nations throughout the world do realise that petrochemical usage needs to be reduced, and Bioplastic is being recognised as a viable alternative to these plastics. Cost-effectiveness also needs to be addressed, especially since the Bioplastic industry, at present, is tiny compared to the oil based plastics industry.

But, the present generation biopolymer materials are well suited for single use products such as bags, films, spoons and bottles and continuous efforts are being made to compete against conventional plastics both property wise and economic wise.

The projections of bioplastics market growth by 2020, in the various studies by nova-Institut and IfBB, were found to be heavily dependent on the policy framework applied by governing bodies of each country. Markets react sensitively to the framework conditions in each country, both by volumes and types of product. And legislation affects more than shopping bags alone. The implementation of plastic bag ban by various countries could also promote innovations in the wider area of bio-based and biodegradable plastics.

However, there have been very few success stories in the effectiveness of the plastic bag reduction measures worldwide. The government bodies need to put in all efforts to educate and bring about a consumer awareness on the impacts of the single use plastic products and the growth of sustainable alternative, like bioplastics, is within the power of all of us as individuals regardless of whether there is a local or national ban on these plastic products.

References and Useful links

Banning Plastic Bags Is Great for the World, Right? Not So Fast

France bans plastic disposable serviceware as of 2020

Ban plastic bags! But what about compostable bags?

Plastic Bag Bans: Analysis of Economic and Environmental Impacts

Plastics and the Environment – Assessing the Impact of the Complete Ban on Plastic Carry Bag