Robbie Staniforth, policy manager at Ecosurety, looks at the issue of voluntary measures versus mandatory responsibility, and asks why the necessary targets set out in the recently unveiled Plastics Pact are voluntary…
We were recently invited to join the UK Plastics Pact by WRAP in order to provide an additional perspective on the plastic packaging issue in the UK. While glad to be part of something that looks to put measurable commitments in place, it once again raises the issue of voluntary measures versus mandatory responsibility.
Namely, what should manufacturers, brands and retailers be required to do as part of their legal responsibility and what gap is left to be filled by voluntary commitments.
Educating brands and retailers to understand their role in waste prevention has undoubtedly increased in the last year. The Packaging Collective are trying to create a forum to share learning among the professionals that can really make a difference at the design and manufacturing stage.
I often hear peers talking about the need to take “waste management” conversations outside of the sector and it is heartening to see this beginning to take place. Creating a link to those with real influence (the designers!) is vital.
While it may be laudable that so many leading companies operating in the UK have now committed to the targets set, it of course begs the question, why isn’t it the status quo? While I agree that each of the targets in the Plastics Pact are necessary, it seems strange, given the public pressure, that these targets are voluntary.
“The commitment for “100% of plastic packaging to be re-useable, recyclable or compostable by 2025” is exactly the type of measure that we should look to achieve across the whole of industry, not just those companies with enough of a conscience to sign-up to the pact.”
I certainly do not advocate mandatory targets as the only mechanism for ensuring sustainable resource use. In fact, it may well be the national packaging recycling targets that has proliferated the export of waste and lack of domestic responsibility for packaging. However, how can it be that the public will still have to accept plastic packaging being placed onto the market for which there is still no acceptable waste management solution.
The commitment for “100% of plastic packaging to be re-useable, recyclable or compostable by 2025” is exactly the type of measure that we should look to achieve across the whole of industry, not just those companies with enough of a conscience to sign-up to the pact.
Looking across the sector, there are many ideas gaining traction, such as the “plastic free aisle”, of which I’ve previously been critical. When announced by the PM, it was delivered as such a soundbite that it was hard not to be cynical. However, perhaps creating an opportunity to model a different way to purchase our groceries is what is needed. Prompting retailers to think about how to be demonstrable in the way goods could be packaged.
It seems that even the current Government have admitted that the free-market alone will not resolve the environmental problems created by the mismanagement of plastic packaging. But how far are they willing to go with creating policy and regulation? I couldn’t agree more with James Surowiecki when he said, “If we want our regulators to do better, we have to embrace a simple idea: regulation isn’t an obstacle to thriving free markets; it’s a vital part of them.”