By: Hamish Champ
February 21, 2014
A United Kingdom academic has called on the European Parliament to tackle single-use plastic bags in order to focus consumers' minds on the 'throw away society' and change their behavior.
Speaking this week at a conference in Brussels organized by European Green MPs and the European Free Alliance party, Richard Thompson, a professor at the University of Plymouth's School of Marine Science and Engineering, said single-use plastic bags were "the epitome of our disposable, single-use society" and Europe could start addressing the problem with legislation on single-trip plastic bags.
"This would force people to look at what they take home with them. Yes, the actual tonnage [of plastic material used] is small, but it would help society focus on the issue," he added. Thompson did not say in his address what action he would like to see over the issue.
However, despite his call for legislation on single-use plastic bags Thompson said he recognized there were benefits to plastics in many walks of life and crucially in its "inherent recyclability."
"Plastic is the ideal candidate in a circular economy," he said, arguing that waste plastic should be seen as a resource.
"We have had almost 60 years of the 'throw away' culture and 30 percent of what gets thrown away is made of plastic. We need to keep the positives [of plastics] without the debris."
Touching on biodegradable plastics, Thompson said that while on the face of it such material might stem from other natural sources the end result was the same: "They don't solve waste management issues and they don't stop waste accumulating in landfill or in the environment."
Only by capturing these materials once their useful lives had ended would these problems be solved, he argued.
Thompson also showed the conference a see-through plastic bag containing the small debris of a degradable plastic bag which had been in his possession for 10 years.
"Some of these degradable plastics break down rapidly, but lots don't. All we achieve here is a 'techno-fix', where material is allowed to rot in the environment.
"What needs to happen is for consumers to get better information on recyclability of the plastics they use, as well as better design in plastics so the resource can be used again."
At the same conference Ton Emans, president of Brussels-based trade body Plastics Recyclers Europe, said: "The future is about developing quality plastics recyclates for producing new goods and not about down-cycling and misleading the consumer about biodegradability and or the compostability of products in the environment, including the marine environment."
Emans also claimed that as little as 2 percent of degradable material in the recycling stream "created quality problems for recyclers."