The Complex Challenges of Plastic Waste Reduction Strategies Highlight the Need for Simple and Sustainable Solutions

This week began with encouraging news from across the globe of fresh efforts to reduce plastic waste.

The ranks of cities, states and countries implementing partial or total bans on single-use plastics are growing, with Mumbai being the latest to bring in legislation. A steep fine or jail time is now the consequence for residents who continue to use plastic bags, cups or bottles following Monday’s ban.

The Guardian reports that although India’s plastic use is already commendably low – roughly half of the global average and 10 times less than the amount used by the US – their management of plastic waste is poor. This, combined with reports of potentially corrupt practices when implementing this type of ban, highlights the need for innovative alternatives to eliminate our reliance on single-use plastics.

In the UK, the supermarket chain Morrisons announced plans to re-introduce the classic brown paper bag for their loose fruit and vegetables, replacing their current plastic ones. Although seemingly positive at first glance, and certainly commendable as a demonstration of support for the changing tide of public opinion on plastic use, the move has come under fire from some commentators due to the climate damage caused during the production and disposal of these recyclable paper bags.

The week’s most exciting news comes from Samoa. In attempts to preserve their seas and marine life, as well as halting their rapidly increasing consumption of plastics, the pacific island nation is looking to coconut leaves, hemp, chicken feathers and cassava as possible alternatives to single-use plastics and Styrofoam containers before implementing bans.

Clearly the market for thoughtful innovation is expanding, but whilst alternative resources are sometimes scarce or promising research is limited, simple solutions exist that can be adopted globally.

Iceland, another British supermarket chain, is among one of several large European businesses to introduce the “trust mark” to their food packaging. The label guarantees the absence of any hidden plastics, allowing shoppers to immediately make more environmentally friendly choices.

This is not the usual extreme, futuristic initiative that many people imagine when contemplating innovative plastic use reduction strategies but could produce a dramatic reduction in our consumption of plastic-containing products precisely thanks to its simplicity. Cheap, basic and easily implemented global efforts such as this, in combination with tailored, local solutions similar to those being pursued in Samoa, could fundamentally alter our often blind dependence on plastics and ultimately revolutionize our relationship with this material.