Featured Sustainability

Single-Use Plastics to be Banned in Wales

Julie James, Welsh Minister for Climate Change, has proposed a ban on single-use plastics

The draft bill was announced in a speech on 15 August as part of The Environmental Protection Bill. Plans to ban single-use plastics in Wales had been officially stated two years ago.

The most commonly disposed of single-use plastics include polystyrene takeaway containers, single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, cups, cutlery, lids for cups, balloon sticks and other products made of oxo-degradable plastic. Some clauses apply to specific plastic items. For example, straws will be free from the ban in certain situations. For example, straws used for health and disability reasons can be purchased and even given free of charge. They’ll also be available for purchase if sold in retail pharmacy businesses.

There’s also an exception for carrier bags with a “size commensurate to the size or nature of the item to be carried” supplied to carry the item as long as they have maximum dimensions of 125 x 125 millimetres and do not have handles. These bags are mostly used for raw meats, fish, medicinal products and unpackaged seeds.

Some Welsh residents wonder if plastic bin liners will be banned and what would be the alternative if they are, with others replying that hemp plastic could be the ideal. Hemp plastic is a bioplastic created from the cellulose of hemp plants. That’s because even petroleum-derived plastic needs cellulose. It decomposes much faster, it’s five times stiffer, and is 3.5 times more durable than traditional plastics. 

Single-use plastics washed up in Camarthenshire
Single-use plastics washed up in Carmarthenshire © Paul Quayle

However, if they aren’t properly disposed of, hemp plastic bags or bin liners won’t decompose in a landfill. Statistics provided by Wrap Cymru estimate that around 400,000 tonnes of plastic waste are generated in Wales yearly, with 67% being packaging waste. 

On the other hand, Wales has the second highest recycling rate in the world, though only 33% of household plastic is recycled, as announced by the Senedd. In the same statement, Senedd also mentioned interest in pursuing a strategic approach to address other materials issues. The ‘Beyond Recycling’ circular economy strategy wants Wales to become the world leader in recycling and the first country to send zero plastic to landfills.

Other goals include eradicating avoidable food waste, prioritizing the purchase of wood and creating conditions for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

The ban was met with widespread acclaim at a local and international level and is one of the first steps taken by the Welsh government to materialize a circular economy strategy.

Featured Sustainability

Scientists Find Breakthroughs in Breaking Down Plastic in Days

Plastic Pollution is Worrying Scientists Globally and Countries Across the World are Taking Longer Than They Should Develop Measures Against the Climate Crisis

A new study describes the creation of a new enzyme to clean up sites polluted by plastic. They tested it using polymer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and broke it down within a week, and in some cases, in only 24 hours. The enzyme has been called FAST-PETase, standing for functional, active, stable and tolerant PETase.

Considering how these plastic products take centuries to degrade in normal conditions, this enzyme might very well be the panacea to the plastic pollution concerns that have been tormenting humanity for the past decades.

Chemical engineer, Hal Alter from the University of Texas at Austin, has mentioned how the possibilities are endless across industries to leverage the leading-edge recycling process created by these scientists. This is beneficial for the waste management industry and allows corporations to take the lead in recycling their products.

It’s estimated that humans produce roughly 380 million tons of plastic yearly, with a large part of this plastic being dumped into the sea annually. And, there are currently five trillion pieces of plastic, weighing a mind-boggling 269,000 tons, floating in the ocean. And, that’s without taking into account the deep-sea regions filled with microplastics.

Plastic Pollution
Plastic Pollution © Robert Brook

Scientists have been aware of the accumulating mass of waste in the ocean and the damage it causes to ocean life and human life for years, yet the lack of research on ocean plastic makes it difficult to accurately estimate how to get rid of it without further affecting marine ecosystems.

The study tested the enzyme at temperatures lower than 50 degrees Celsius, a positive breakthrough as it proved that it could work at ambient temperature. The process through which the enzyme breaks down the plastic into smaller parts is called depolymerization. Then, it chemically puts it back together through depolymerization. 

The current methods for disposing of plastic are burning it, throwing it in a landfill, or throwing it into the ocean. So, implementing FAST-PETase can allow companies to recycle their products more accessible and envision a circular plastics economy. And, encouraging a circular plastics economy would result in a restorative design where materials ebb and flow in a closed-loop system instead of being discarded as most countries in the world tend to do with single-use plastics.

The discovery and implementation of this enzyme is a massive step in the right direction for the fight against plastic pollution.