This research provides insights into the industries that use single-use plastics the most: food and beverage, medical, and hospitality industries. The three states that have preempted single-use plastic bans include South Dakota, Florida, and Texas. Two top hindrances in the fight against single-use plastics include lobbyists and consumer behavior arguments.
HIGH SINGLE-USE PLASTIC CONSUMER INDUSTRIES
Food and Beverage Industry
- Consumer attitudes have brought the plastic conversation into the limelight. Single-use plastics in this industry rapidly increased because of its convenience for the customer and the reduction in costs such as employing individuals for cleaning. The food delivery market has also played a great role in enhancing the use of these plastics. For this reason, unless suitable packaging replacement is found, this problem may still persist in the future.
- Customers in this conversation are still determining how much convenience they would be willing to sacrifice to replace plastics. As this question is still not answered fully, governments and companies are still working to create change where ocean pollution is concerned and to provide sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternatives.
- The food industry is seeing an increase in compostable food serviceware. These solutions may seem, at first glance, as the best alternative, but if it is not managed properly, it may contribute to the current waste crisis.
- Many plastic items used in hospitals are designed to be used only once in order to prevent the spread of infection. These items are convenient and cost-saving as they keep their contents safe for a long period. Plastics are used in hospitals in the form of syringes, applicators, drug tests, bandages, and wraps.
- In this plastic conversation, people are attempting to recycle some plastic products. One company in this industry that is doing so is BD. For its Recykleen™ brand, this medical device manufacturer uses recycled materials in most of its products.
- One area where this industry constantly contributed to single-use plastics is the use of the mini-amenities bottles. As an alternative, hotels are encouraged to use multi-use bottles and dispensers. In California, the state government banned the use of these plastics across this industry. This state aims to eradicate these bottles from all hotels by the end of 2023. This effort is not only evident in the US; it has become a global movement with governments around the world discussing the reduction of plastic use in this industry.
- Consumers have appreciated the use of these devices as they feel that they are playing a part in mitigating plastic pollution.
STATES WITH A BAN ON BANS
- First, it is important to note that as the single-use plastic ban concept gains popularity in the US, there are several factors that are preventing its growth/expansion. This is what is referred to here as a ban on bans. The image below provides an overview of the state of the different states in the US on the issue of the ban on plastic bags.
- According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) report released in January 2020, the states that have had preemptive laws against bans on plastics include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
- Across these states, the plastic-free market is prominent among individuals that support the movement and brands that market in this specific direction. From a state-wide perspective, the use of plastic bag alternatives has not taken on like in states like California and New York.
- As of January 2020, South Dakota was the latest state to pass a ban on plastic bag bans in the US. By February 2020, the bill was at Gov. Kristi Noem's desk for action after the Senate approved it.
- Retail groups had collectively stated that a ban on plastics would be devastating to their business as supplying the alternatives would be significantly more expensive. As such state lawmakers collectively preempted local bans.
- Other people in leadership criticized the bill, citing government overreach. These individuals were representatives from environmental groups and Democrats who publicly opposed the bill. Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender also opposed the bill, criticizing it publicly, although he was Republican.
- In 2008, Florida preempted local bans and fees on plastics and it was the first state to do so. In this preempt, Florida cited difficulty in enforcing plastic bans across jurisdictions and the barriers that will be created in providing services to consumers. Additionally, the state hinders the local government's efforts in determining how to implement any plastic bans such as "to go" containers.
- Companies and individuals that will face the negative financial impact have controlled the implementation of plastic bags in Texas. Those who support plastic bans have criticized this thought-process as a negative money-minded attitude. In 2018, it was ruled that plastic bag bans are not permitted in the state of Texas as they were a violation of state law. This announcement was relevant as certain cities had banned the use of single-use plastic bags.
- Prior to this state-wide preemptive determination, Austin had attempted to transfer the plastic bag clean up costs to taxpayers. These cleanup costs would also address recycling machinery, the maintenance of sewage, and water systems. This cost was estimated to cost between $303,000 to $850,000 annually. However, after 2018, the city of Austin could not do so.
HINDRANCES TO THE UPTAKE OF PLASTIC-FREE PRODUCTS
Plastic Bag Lobbyists are Winning
- The global plastic industry is integrated into every industry. As a result, companies across industries would prefer that they continue to use plastics as they are convenient and reliable. For this reason, environmentalists in the US have decided to take this conversation to the consumer; shifting the conversation from corporate accountability to individual responsibility.
- The American Progressive Bag Alliance is leading the charge against plastic bag bans in the US. This alliance advocates for the plastic industry which has about 25,000 workers in the US. As an independent division of the Plastics Industry Association, its funding is not public information. However, in 2019, the association as a whole spent $320,000 on federal lobbying in just the first nine months.
- The main argument used by lobbyists is that plastic bags are better than paper for the environment. These groups cite studies that have been carried out in this regard.
Arguments that Affect Consumer Choices
- As environmentalists increase awareness in the hope that everyone takes on the responsibility, a contradicting argument influences the consumer to be indifferent/play down the impact of small items such as straws and bags.
- Opposers to banning plastic bags state that shifting responsibility to these minor consumer items does not offer real and actionable solutions. These arguments are as follows:
- Plastics washed to sea accumulate at specific points due to ocean currents. In fact, research has shown that waste in the ocean is much more dispersed and fragmented. This is supported by an oceanography professor, Angelicque “Angel” White, who studied the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Japan. She stated that, at random intervals, one may spot a piece of styrofoam or a fishing line floating by.
- A study by The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization, carried out an extensive assessment of the problem and presented a comprehensive report. This report was published on 5th March 2018. With the assistance of 30 ships, they were able to collect a wide range of debris. These were the findings.
- By collecting more than a million pieces of trash, the team was able to categorize and analyze the trash collected. First, they determined that the Pacific patch is larger than it was estimated previously, equating it to three times the size of France. They first noted that about 20% of the trash must have been from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami.
- Important to note, for argument's sake, was that the primary culprits were not consumer items such as straws, cups, and bags. 46% were fishnets, 52% if ropes and lines are combined. The rest was defined as hard plastics such as crates and 8% were small fragments such as bottle caps. As such, this argument points out that the issue here should not focus on consumer waste.
- In addition, studies confirm that most of the ocean trash came from Asia. According to data in a 2015 publication, Asia makes up between 77% and 83% of plastic waste in the oceans. Despite being among the top consumers and producers of plastic, the US doesn't contribute as much to the ocean litter.