Plastic pollution reduction: guidelines for the future

Linee guida per ridurre l’inquinamento da plastica
Linee guida per ridurre l’inquinamento da plastica

Are Italy and Europe ready to take up the challenge to build a more sustainable future starting from plastic pollution reduction?

In this day and age, an increasing amount of attention is being paid to the environment, as also evidenced by the numerous protests of the many young people around the world who, in the wake of the overwhelming wave of activist Greta Thunberg, have mobilised in favour of the planet.

Greta deserves credit for being able to raise awareness and engage the younger generation, helping to create a new environmental conscience. All this gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves where Europe and Italy stand and what is their stance on plastic use.

The WWF call on plastic pollution

The WWF’s international report “Solving Plastic Pollution Through Accountability” highlights that since 1950 the production of virgin plastic has increased by 200 times, growing by 4% per year, until 2000. According to the latest available data updated to 2016, production amounted to 396 million tons of plastic with an emission of 2 billion tons of CO2. Furthermore, 75% of the plastic produced worldwide has already turned into waste to date.

Marine plastic pollution

The WWF’s call is to stop marine plastic pollution: around 100 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the environment due to incorrect management of plastic production, its consumption, its recycling and finally its disposal. According to the data, only 20% of plastic waste is collected for recycling. In Europe, half of the plastic produced is discarded in the recycling process for health, safety and contamination reasons.

All this must and can change, as pleaded by the WWF: if the change does not happen, by 2030 plastic pollution will at least double. On the contrary, a different management of the supply chain could lead to a 57% reduction in the plastic waste produced, with a plastic reduction to the tune of 188 million tons.

Europe's guidelines: EU plastics strategy

On 16 January 2018, the European Commission adopted the EU Plastics Strategy to:

  • ensure that all packaging is recyclable by 2030
  • deal with the threat posed by microplastics, plastic particles smaller than five millimetres that end up in marine waters, bypassing the filters used to block larger plastic residues
  • curb the consumption of single-use plastic items and marine litter («any persistent manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment»)

As part of the strategy to reduce plastic pollution, the European Commission has banned the marketing and production of cotton buds with non-compostable plastic or non-biodegradable material, with the obligation to include clear information in the packaging on their correct disposal and an explicit ban on the use of toilets and drains as waste bins.

Stop single-use plastics

In addition, a ban on disposable plastic cutlery, plates, balloon sticks and straws was proposed: a ban is expected from 2021, since they account for 70% of marine waste. By 2029, Member States will have to collect 90% of single-use plastic beverage bottles and by 2025, 25% will have to be made from recycled materials, up to 30% in 2030.

The situation in Italy

According to an article by Lorenzo Brenna published on LifeGate,150-160 cetaceans die on our beaches every year in Italy. For 30% of deaths, the cause is attributable to maritime traffic and fishing, but plastic contamination is constantly on the rise. Greenpeace Italy claims that half of the planet’s whale and dolphin species have ingested plastic. This trend is confirmed by the findings of large quantities of this material in the stomachs of beached animals. In the article, reference is made to the case of a pregnant female sperm whale, which ran aground at the end of March in Porto Cervo. 22 kilos of plastic were found in the animal’s stomach.

These situations remind us of the urgency to act in a timely manner.

Italy's guidelines on plastic pollution reduction

Italy is also taking steps to do away with plastic. From 1 January 2019 it is forbidden to sell cotton buds produced with non-biodegradable material and from 1 January 2020 cosmetics containing microplastics are banned.

The Ministry of the Environment has adopted a series of measures aimed at abolishing the use of single-use plastic items, starting the process to effectively become “plastic free” with the #IoSonoAmbiente campaign. Thus, starting from 1 October 2018, the following actions were taken within the Ministry:

  • products packaged with single-use plastics and plastic bottles were eliminated from beverage and food dispensers
  • disposable products were eliminated in the Ministry’s pre-schools and nurseries
  • recycled aluminium water bottles were distributed to employees to allow them to drink water or other beverages at their desk, also thanks to the installation of still and sparkling chilled water dispensers
  • plastic cups and sugar stirrers inside hot drink dispensers were replaced with paper cups and wooden coffee stirrers
  • processes to encourage the adoption of “plastic free” policies were proposed to employees
  • awareness-raising campaigns for citizens
  • professional refresher courses on the subject, for communication specialists.

With the institutional campaign #IoSonoAmbiente, in collaboration with the Forestry, Environmental and Agri-food Unit Command of the Carabinieri and the Coast Guard, the Ministry of the Environment will continue a campaign aimed at raising awareness and promoting the ban on single-use plastic items, inviting all citizens to collect and dispose of the plastic found on the beaches inside recycling bins.

Transforming the plastic issue into an opportunity

The main obstacles lie in the unprofitability of the recycling industry and the lack of availability of environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic for consumers.

Increasing the production of recycled plastic, as well as allowing the reduction of half of the production of virgin plastic, would lead to the creation of a non-polluting plastic economy, capable of generating over one million jobs in the reworking and recycling chain.

Each of us can help the planet in our own small way, by providing our contribution, changing our lifestyle, improving or changing our habits and engaging in small daily gestures.

The Ministry of the Environment's handbook

The Ministry of the Environment has put together a handbook for the good citizen, which helps clarify which small behaviours to adopt in our everyday life in order to reduce plastic pollution:

  • do not discard plastic on our beaches and in our seas
  • dispose of plastic in separate waste collection
  • eliminate the use of disposable plastic plates and cups and use a flask or jug of tap water
  •  avoid toothpastes and scrubs that may contain microplastics
  • use reusable shopping bags
  • avoid buying food wrapped in plastic packaging
  • do not use plastic film to preserve food, reusable containers are preferable
  • banish plastic straws if possible
  • favour natural fibres over artificial ones
  • do not think that single-use plastic items are necessary: it is not true!