Concerns about plastic waste are increasing among consumers, governments and businesses alike

The UK’s Glastonbury festival made headlines earlier this year when organisers announced that single-use drinks bottles will be banned at this summer’s event after 1.3 million were used at its last instalment in 2017.

The move follows the introduction of many high-profile bans on disposable plastics worldwide over the past year. Disposable drinking straws, 500 million of which are used daily across the United States, have been targeted in many cities and states across North America, while Starbucks and McDonald’s have also announced restrictions in certain markets.

The European Union has furthermore announced that it will introduce sweeping prohibitions on a wide range of single-use plastics in 2021, with cotton buds, disposable food containers and polystyrene cups to also be outlawed as part of a drive to cut as much as EUR 22 billion in costs to environmental damage by 2030.

The problem of plastic waste is recognised by consumers worldwide, with a share of 80% or more citizens in countries as diverse as Australia, Canada, France, China, Brazil, India and South Korea concerned with the use of disposable, non-recyclable products.

Nevertheless, there is less agreement among the public when it comes to solutions. Government-driven investment to improve the range of recyclable goods available was regarded as effective by only 45% of respondents in one international survey, while taxes on businesses selling non-recyclable goods or on the products themselves were seen as workable by only 31% and 28% of consumers respectively. In much of Western Europe and North America public information campaigns were considered productive by less than a fifth of citizens.

Although many economies that have long produced the most global plastic waste are moving in the right direction, the growth of new consumer classes in developing markets will provide further challenges to an increasingly-populous planet. While Europe, for example, has managed to keep its production of plastic under control in recent years – seeing its output between 2008 and 2017 grow from 60 to 64.4 million metric tonnes – manufacturing at a global level over the same period has risen by 60% from 245 to 348 million metric tonnes.

With populations around the world identifying the relevance of different solutions in their own countries, a combination of high-profile political and commercial measures will be required to effectively address an issue that, by its very nature, transcends borders.