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Plastic waste is an environmental hazard to food and marine systems since it is non-biodegradable. Mass production of single-use plastic products to meet demand and their improper disposal have led to their accumulation in most natural habitats, including oceans, waterways, and land. Among the policy interventions implemented by government entities to address this issue are imposing a plastic bag levy, introducing biodegradable alternatives, blanket bans, and community sensitization programs.
Greater environmental consciousness coupled with social pressure has been shown to decrease plastic bag usage in favor of cloth alternatives (Ari and Yilmaz 1231). Therefore, tackling the problem of accumulating plastic waste requires consumer behavior change through access restrictions, choice, and information to limit plastic production and use.
Actions by Other Similar Entities
State and international entities have taken different steps and implemented policy initiatives to tackle the drivers of plastic pollution. From treaties to coercive policies such as bans and taxes, these measures are all meant to change consumer behavior. Denmark imposed a weight-based tax to promote the use of cloth bags in 1994, and this mechanism reduced the consumption of plastic alternatives by 66% (Ritch et al. 170).
Similarly, the Republic of Ireland introduced a 0.15 cents levy per plastic bag, cutting their usage by 94% (Ritch et al. 170). Bans or prohibitions are other policy mechanisms employed by countries. Plastic bags that are 24-30 microns in thickness have been banned in many countries, including South Africa, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Italy, and Belgium (Ritch et al. 171). The limitation is meant to address the problem of accumulating plastics and their impacts on habitats.
The global nature of the plastic problem has led to treaties at national and supranational levels. For instance, the European Union in the Sixth Environment Action Program for the European Community 2002-2012 lists “waste prevention and recycling” as a core sustainable development goal (Ritch et al. 169). By ratifying the treaty, EU member states are obligated to develop policy measures to decrease plastic bag consumption. As a response, Scotland created a binding policy instrument, the National Waste Plan, which prescribes the respective roles of the public and private sectors in plastic waste management.
Lifestyle choices, such as the use of nylon wrappers to carry hot edible food/drinks and dispose of waste, increase the demand for plastics. National entities have implemented different campaigns to change consumer attitudes and promote recycling. In Turkey, a campaign dubbed ‘The Love of Nylon Kills’ was co-organized by Dicle University distributed textile bags to create awareness and discourage the use of plastic carriers by a local Turkish community (Ari and Yilmaz 1222).
Retailers have also been at the forefront in promoting green lifestyle choices. In the UK, Tesco supermarket through its ‘Green Clubcard scheme’ awards shoppers points for reusing carrier bags (Ritch et al. 172). The retailer also gives free, biodegradable alternatives and recycling bins to buyers. The use of less coercive approaches by supermarkets aims at shifting behavior patterns to greener lifestyle choices.
Technological innovations offer optimal solutions to anthropogenic plastic waste accumulation. Corporate entities such as Tesco give free, biodegradable carrier bags to shoppers (Ritch et al. 172). Unlike traditional plastics, such packaging materials are decomposable since they are plant-based. Another technological innovation is the bag for life made from recycled plastic. Waitrose supermarket introduced this packaging material, and it is estimated to “have prevented the use of 50 million plastic bags” (Ritch et al. 172).
Environmentally friendly alternatives to plastics are available for use by citizens. Ari and Yilmaz recommend reusable textile and string bags, baskets, and carts for carrying food products or disposing of household waste (1232). Garbage bags can be replaced with recyclable bins. Economic measures combined with improved consumer access to greener alternatives can reduce the accumulation of plastic wastes in landfills, water bodies, and other habitats.
The Effectiveness of These Actions
Coercive national policies such as taxes or bans have produced mixed results in reducing plastic waste accumulation. In Italy, a levy of €0.0051 charged on plastic bags had no significant change in buyer behavior patterns (Ritch et al. 170). However, taxes have been shown to decrease plastic bag consumption. For example, following Denmark’s imposition of a weight-based tax on shopping bags, their usage dropped by 66% (Ritch et al. 170).
Viewed from this perspective, economic policies can be said to be effective in reducing consumption but not consumer behavior. Their strengths lie in making plastics costly through direct charges to discourage consumption and imposing high taxes on manufacturers to suppress production. The feasibility of legislative measures can be ascertained since plastic bag consumption has declined in South Africa and Belgium following the implementation of total bans and levies. However, in most cases, citizens would continue using and disposing of single-use plastic bags and bottles, as the supermarkets absorb the green taxes. This aspect coupled with a lack of unanimous support from producers constitutes a significant weakness of economic measures.
National and supranational treaties are primarily effective because they integrate global environmental concerns into public policy instruments. They provide a regulatory framework for countries to formulate policy measures for managing plastic pollution. For example, Scotland’s National Waste Strategy that prescribes waste targets for cities was based on the EU’s Sixth Environmental Action Program (Ritch et al. 169).
Therefore, international treaties and instruments are feasible approaches for aligning consumption patterns within the framework of sustainable development. A possible weakness of this method is that it does not address challenges related to the development and implementation of policy measures and differences in national economic drivers.
Interventions promoting greener lifestyle choices have mostly been successful. Campaigns against the use of plastic bags encouraged Chinese consumers to reuse their bags when shopping, reducing plastic waste accumulation (Ari and Yilmaz 1222).
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A major strength of such interventions is that they aim at changing consumer behavior patterns. They are feasible solutions to the plastic waste problem because they involve a bottom-up approach. However, the gains may not be sustained if alternatives are not provided. Technological innovations are greener options for carrying or packaging food and other products. Their strength is that they are biodegradable. However, the associated high cost of production limits their feasibility as viable alternatives. A possible weakness related to greener technologies such as paper bags is their limited reusability.
Background and History of Tesco
Tesco is a leading British multinational retailer with annual sales of over £57.5 billion that runs different green initiatives to curb plastic pollution. The corporation was launched in 1924 as a market stall. It has expanded over the years through mergers and acquisitions, expanding its international operations to 11 countries. The retailer runs the ‘Green Clubcard scheme’ that rewards customers who reuse shopping bags (Ritch et al. 172). They also offer biodegradable alternatives that decompose after only 60 days (Ritch et al. 172). Recycling bins are given to shoppers to limit the use of plastic bags in collecting wastes.
Ari, Erkan, and Veysel Yilmaz. “Consumer Attitudes on the Use of Plastic and Cloth Bags.” Environment, Development and Sustainability, vol. 19, 2017, pp. 1219-1234.
Ritch, Elaine, et al. “Plastic Bag Politics: Modifying Consumer Behaviour for Sustainable Development”. International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 33, 2009, pp. 168–174.