In a long-awaited move towards battling plastic pollution, the European Parliament recently voted in favour of laws that will see single-use plastics banned across all EU countries from 2021. The vote was overwhelmingly supported by the majority of MEPs – with 560 voting for the agreement, and 35 voting against.
Regardless of what happens with Brexit, the United Kingdom’s environment secretary has stated similar intentions to ban single-use plastics (eg, straws) in the United Kingdom in the coming years. With EU member states producing and wasting around 25 million tonnes of plastic every year, it is a change in the law which has been welcomed by environmentalists and citizens alike.
In the past few years, companies, consumers and governments have been shockingly complacent about the plastic pollution problem we face. For the most part, recent changes in law have shown that when a law is enforced upon citizens it is the most likely catalyst for change in a community. For example, many of us will remember when the 5p plastic-bag charge was introduced in the United Kingdom in 2015. At first, it seemed a lot of effort to remember to bring bags to the shops to avoid being charged – but the change certainly me think about the impact that I have on the environment. After the introduction of the scheme in England, the government reported that the number of bags used had reduced by more than 80%. This equated to around 9 billion fewer plastic bags being distributed and ultimately polluting the environment. A fantastic result, which begs the question: are tougher laws needed to enforce environmental progress? Although people are clearly becoming more environmentally conscious, results like the plastic-bag charge show that legal change does push people to make a real difference. Legal changes force people to alter their mindset and habits – two of the biggest issues with environment pollution. People are so used to our disposable culture that they barely think twice about the amount of plastic wasted in our day-to-day lives. When habits surrounding plastic are changed, there is far more opportunity for progress.
Big companies have been confronted with this issue too – and some have started to take responsibility. Numerous restaurant chains globally have replaced plastic straws with paper ones, and coffee shops have introduced charges for the use of disposable cups. If more governments and businesses started to follow the lead of the few who are taking environmental responsibility, these structures would implement change from the top-down, which is an effective way of protecting our planet’s future.
Although in other areas of life, enforcing drastic changes on citizens could have severely negative consequences, when it comes to climate change, legal change is arguably necessary to get people to rethink their environmentally destructive habits.