Do Plastic Bans Work?

Major governments around the globe implement plastic bans to achieve higher greenhouse gas emission reduction and environmental conservation targets. Low-value plastics, such as bottles, straws, and cutlery, are hard to recycle and almost difficult to benefit from for waste staff. According to a 2008 Waste Management survey, people worldwide waste between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags per year. As a major contributor to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lists single-use plastic bags. Such pollution at the ocean poses a serious threat to marine life.

Let's look at the initiatives that countries in the world have taken to tackle this growing issue:

1. Kenya:

African countries have adopted significant steps to combat plastics in the right direction. In August 2017, the Kenyan government prohibited the use, manufacture and sale of plastic bags. The punishment for breaching the law ranges up to four years in prison, or a fine of $38,000.

The Manufacturers Association of Kenya unsuccessfully challenged the ban in court. They were seeking to save an estimated 100,000 jobs which would be lost as a result of the ban. The Kenyan government has confirmed, according to BBC, that since the ban 80% of the population has stopped using carrier bags. Though after it came into effect, the ban led to the organization of "bag cartels" smuggling illicit plastic bags from Uganda and Tanzania. Supermarkets and many shops no longer sell carrier bags but smaller, thinner plastic bags have been used by small traders.

2. France:

n 2015, France requested a total ban on plastic bags.

In France 4.73 billion plastic cups are thrown away each year. They expanded the ban to include disposable plastic cups, glasses, plates and cutlery to combat this problem. France became the first country under a single ban covering this range of single-use plastics. The ban was planned to be implemented as early as 2016 to 2017 but was delayed until 2020 because of the critiques it was receiving.

France's ban was called upon to be an "anti-social" measure targeted at low-income people who are the primary consumers of these plastics for single use. The Pack2Go group in Brussels has opposed the law because it contradicts current EU legislation on the free movement of goods and the safety of manufacturers.

3. Morocco:

On 1 July 2016 the manufacture, import, sale and distribution of all plastic bags was banned across the region. Morocco used 3 billion plastic bags per year before that ban. This made the country the world's second largest user of plastic bags after the U.S.

According to Morocco World News, plastic bags have not been completely eradicated because new plastic bag outlets have emerged. Some bags are manufactured through illegal workshops in the manufacture, smuggling and illegal distribution.

Throughout July 2016 and December 2018 inspections and activities were carried out by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Industry. As a result they collected and discarded 7, 500 tons of plastic bags.

Notwithstanding this, the Minister of Industry said the effect of the ban was "highly satisfactory and motivating." According to him, between 2015 and 2018 the use of raw materials used in the manufacture of bags dropped by 50 per cent.

4. United Kingdom

In 2015, the United Kingdom began taxing plastic bags which led to the production of 9 billion fewer plastic bags. In 2019, all major retailers ' single-use bag sales fell by 37 percent (1.11 billion) compared to the previous year.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has launched a consultation in late 2018 about a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. This is meant to counter the approximate 8.5 billion plastic straws which are thrown away in the UK alone each year.

Targeting plastic microbeads is the first step in UK's 25-year plan to eliminate plastic waste. These are tiny plastics used in cosmetics such as body scrubs and face wash products. Such microbeads often end up in the oceans and have an impact on marine life.

There was a decline in plastic use on two sides of the same coin

Governments that enforced the ban. Such countries claim to have met or come closer to achieving their goals for waste reduction.

Nevertheless, the effect of such bans does not end with a tangible decrease in the supply of plastics. The ban obliged retailers and vendors to turn to other budget-friendly alternatives to carry on business as usual. Such solutions mean a reduction in plastic pollution but involve certain types of damage to the environment. Another such example is the replacement of single-use plastics in Kenya with bags made from synthetic fibres. They essentially substituted plastic for plastic. Although this solution is likely to have a longer lifespan, because of Kenya's inadequate recycling system it will still add to the plastic crisis in the long run.

The largest drawback of these restrictions is the lack of investment in systemic approaches serving the same purpose as plastics. The suggested alternatives are not nearly as effective or cheap to single-use plastics. In reality they are not even conducive to the protection of the climate. Take the example of single-use plastic bags-paper and cotton are the most widely accepted alternatives. While they help us solve our problem with plastics, they have other adverse effects on our planet. According to the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, a paper bag must be reused at least 43 times to be equal to or less than that of a typical single-use plastic bag, for its environmental impacts per use. These are also associated with higher carbon footprints, as these take more resources to move and process them. Cotton bags must be reused thousands of times before they achieve the environmental efficiency of plastic bags (in terms of water, ground, energy usage, etc.).

In fact, most of the bans were enforced without appropriate notice period. As a result, a large portion of the manufacturers could not procure plastic substitutes. This results in adverse consequences for those who lack the economic and social resources to deal with.

In addition, while the plastic bans have managed to achieve their targets, the governments have failed to consider the other factors at stake. Before mandating them, it is important for policymakers and industry specialists to evaluate the holistic picture of those plastic bans.

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