A few days ago the BBC reported that IKEA is the latest company to say that it will stop selling ‘single-use plastic products’ - in this case by 2020 (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44398356). The ‘war on plastic’ has really taken hold of public imagination and support over the last few months, largely, I suspect, as a result of tireless campaigns on social media showing a wide diversity of wild animal species with various items filling their digestive systems on the inside or entangling them on the outside. The disruptive power of the internet is very clear here.
‘Single-use plastics’ is a term that is used to mean plastic products that are ‘designed to be used once and then thrown away or recycled’ (http://www.plasticfreechallenge.org/what-is-single-use-plastic/). The website goes on to give examples such as ‘plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.’
I have a plastic bag from the supermarket which has the word ‘re-useable’ printed on it. I also have a plastic water bottle that I refill at the gym. It seems to me that the language we use to describe these products is not always 100% clear. If the manufacturer prints the word ‘re-useable’ on a bag, does that mean that it has been ‘designed’ for more than one use before it is discarded? If a bottle top can be unscrewed to allow re-filling does that change the ‘design intention’?
What strikes me most about this issue is the enormous business potential which seems to be in the process of exploding into reality. On the one hand, companies are able to seize the marketing bandwagon opportunity of being ‘environmentally friendly’ and announcing their abandonment of single-use plastic products - although they may be able to interpret that in differing ways - and on the other hand, the manufacturers themselves have the chance to re-invent themselves and provide new, biodegradable products which have no negative impact on the environment.
We see new technologies all the time in so many sectors and I wonder which ones will take over from the plastic bag and drinking straw.