On March 10, 2020, the independent think tank Green Alliance announced the publication of a report critically reviewing the current regulatory approach to plastic pollution and the circular economy. Titled “Fixing the System,” it calls for a “fundamental rethink” of the current trend to restrict specific uses of plastics and to instead improve the management and circularity of all other material types as well. The report is described as “demonstrat[ing] the risks of simply removing [plastic] from an already dysfunctional system and replacing it with other materials that essentially perform the same functions.” The analysis carried out “shows that doing so will damage the environment in other ways.”
The report recommends focusing on improving the sustainability of many other materials other than plastic, such as “increasing the amount of steel reused, improving the recyclability of glass, paper and aluminum, and tackling non-packaging plastic.” It also specifically addresses the issue of harmful chemicals in material cycles and highlights that in addition to phthalates and bisphenols in plastics, concerns also exist in alternative materials, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in paper and paperboard packaging. The authors stress that “an urgent review of regulations for food contact materials is required.”
A leading message of the study “is the overall need to use less material,” and to create a circular economy through the implementation of the right infrastructure and carefully designed systems. In response to the development of chemical recycling, the report recommends instead prioritizing mechanical recycling ahead of such novel technologies as they use less energy. The UK’s planned tax on plastics with less than 30% recycled content, the authors find, is helpful in incentivizing plastic recycling facilities, but they argue that its ambitions should be increased. Fiscal measures should also be implemented to encourage the use of less materials across the UK.
Green Alliance (March 2020). “Government is treating the symptom, not the cause of plastic pollution.”
Leigh Stringer (March 12, 2020). “UK thinktank calls for urgent review of FCM regulations.” Chemical Watch
Green Alliance (March 2020). “Fixing the system: Why a circular economy for all materials is the only way to solve the plastic problem.” (pdf)