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Global commitments take time, but we can all act now

There’s a growing awareness of the devastating impact single-use plastic has on our environment, and many of us have become accustomed to actions like taking reusable bags to the supermarket, using a reusable coffee cup and opting for loose fruit and veg in our own efforts to save the planet.

Iain Gulland | 7 Apr 22

There are some distressing figures and images out there that remind us of the environmental cost of our single-use habit – like the calculation that, tonne for tonne, there will be more waste plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050¹, and yet plastics production is predicted to grow in the years ahead². 

In the face of such numbers it’s easy for individual actions to feel small and subsequently we are reassured by big, top-level commitments – like the recent resolution from the UN Environment Assembly to produce a global plastic pollution treaty by 2024.

Such agreements are of course welcome. They have the potential to both ensure nations take meaningful action individually and work together to share knowledge and best practice.

In Scotland we’ve already taken decisive action to reduce unnecessary throwaway items. The nationwide charge for disposable carrier bags was introduced to cut down on waste and improve the uptake of reusable bags instead. Meanwhile from June this year single-use plastic items like cutlery and plates will be banned in Scotland, as will throwaway polystyrene cups and food tubs, subject to the UK Internal Market Act 2020.

It’s clear there is an appetite for such action, with a recent poll commissioned by Zero Waste Scotland revealing almost four fifths of Scots are concerned about the scale of single-use items and packaging nationwide³.

People are right to be concerned. The single greatest cause of the climate crisis in Scotland is the wasteful way we produce, use and discard goods and materials. Every needless throwaway product adds to that waste, regardless of whether it’s made of plastic, paper or anything else. The best thing we can do for the planet and for litter too is to ditch disposables altogether and choose to reuse wherever we can.

We’re fortunate to have a wealth of opportunities to change the way we consume for the better in Scotland, reducing the environmental cost of our weekly shop and sending a powerful market signal that will help drive greater innovation.

I’m delighted to see the refill model go from strength to strength, with Scotland’s own Beauty Kitchen recently announced as one of just 13 business-led projects to receive a share of £30million in UK government funding. It’s testament to the innovative work businesses in Scotland are doing to generate viable alternatives to single-use plastic.

With a multitude of businesses and services out there offering alternatives to single-use – from packaging-free shops to refill and leasing models – it is getting easier to make more sustainable choices.

Global commitments take time, but we can all act now.

Sources:

  1. Rethinking the Future of Plastics. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016.
  2. From Pollution to Solution: A global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution. United Nations Environment Programme, 2021.
  3. Zero Waste Scotland survey data, 2021. 
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