An unusual combination of Theresa May and David Attenborough has put plastic waste firmly on the public agenda as a problem that needs to be tackled. I do not wish to disagree, and am just as appalled as anyone by images of plastic bottles floating in the ocean, but as usual the detail of how we tackle the problem is going to be all-important.
The first wave of proposals from central government has, predictably, revolved around taxation. Obesity crisis? Tax the sugar in soft drinks. Disposable coffee cups in landfill? Add a 25p tax. Bottles in the ocean? Tax the plastic bottles via a deposit scheme (and, what is more, make retailers first collect and then return the tax to customers). Not all of these suggestions may yet become law, but you can see the thinking – hit manufacturers and retailers in the pocket, in order to change public behaviour.
Most product, and therefore most plastic waste, in the food and drink industry comes via the major supermarkets, and it is there that the “solution” will doubtless be focused. But there is a danger that any remedies will hit the c-sector disproportionately hard, as so much of the industry’s trade is based around soft drinks and, increasingly, coffee to go.
Self-fill product dispensers and re-usable containers are growing in popularity, but most shoppers have enough trouble remembering their loyalty cards, let alone carry their own coffee cup around.
To me, the solution has to focus on using recyclable materials, and then making it as easy as possible for consumers to recycle them. But there will be a cost, and it needs a more imaginative and courageous commitment from politicians than the standard suggestion of another new tax.