Since I was a child, I was told it was important to recycle to save the planet. Specifically we were taught at school that plastic waste should be put in the recycling bin rather than sending it to a landfill.
When I moved to the UK in 2017 I was somewhat surprised to hear that plastic had been sent to China to “recycle” but that from 2018 the Chinese government were banning the import of used plastic. Shortly afterwards I was to discover that my home country New Zealand had been doing the same thing and were now also unsure what to do about recycling.
So all these years many of us believed we were doing our bit for the planet recycling plastic bottles. Turns out we were just adding to a giant plastic mountain in china and destroying the environment over there.
New Zealand has now banned single use plastic bags following on from San Francisco, South Korea along with various other retailers, cities and countries around the world.
This, along with consumer action to reduce the use of single use plastic plays an important role. But as a species, we have already made a hell of a mess. Along the way we have done serious harm to the ecosystem, polluted our oceans, harmed many endangered animals and left the planet in a far worse state than we found it. Actions to reduce plastic consumption are good, but not enough.
This problem requires a global solution. It requires international cooperations between governments and business. Moving to biodegradable plastic or other less harmful products must become a priority.
From a policy perspective, there is much more governments could be doing to incentivise sustainability and reducing the use of plastics. This could be through encouraging producers and retailers not use them and to invest in alternatives. Rewarding consumers for not buying single use plastics, or where enforceable doing bans or restrictions on plastic bags and bottles
I hope in the 2020’s we see serious action on reducing plastic consumption. Further that we find a way to clean up the plastic mess we have already made.