The Privy Council Judgement on Appeal No. 0028 of 2016 brought by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea delivered on November 27, 2017 allowed Lords Mance, Wilson, Carnwath, Hughes and Briggs to reiterate the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’. They adjured that this tenet is a ‘basic principle of international and domestic environmental laws designed to achieve the internalization of environmental costs, by ensuring that the costs of pollution control and remediation are borne by those who cause the pollution, and thus reflected in the costs of their goods and services, rather than borne by the community at large.’ Article 8 of the Draft Global Pact for the Environment states that: ‘parties shall ensure that prevention, mitigation and remediation costs for pollution, and other environmental disruptions and degradation are, to the greatest possible extent, borne by their originator.’ From Factories to Branded Facebook Pages the principle is the same. Brands are responsible. Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea. If marine plastic pollution continues to rise at its current rate, the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh fish by 2050.

The UK uses 13 billion plastic bottles every year. Only 7.5 billion are recycled. The remaining 5.5 billion are landfilled, littered, or incinerated. The incineration of plastic bottles produces approximately 233,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions a year. The charge to clear litter and related law enforcement cost the UK £778 million in 2015/16. Around 700,000 plastic bottles are littered every day in the UK. The Government has taken into account the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle; that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it. The Waste Hierarchy and the Polluter Pays Principle are enshrined in EU law, but are also internationally recognised sustainable development principles. The UK Government has commitments under the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development to responsible consumption and production (Goal 12), as well as protecting life below water (Goal 14) and life on land (Goal 15) by 2030.

The UK exports about 280,000 – 320,000 tonnes of mixed plastic to China annually. Given the recent Chinese ban on mixed plastic waste from the UK, the UK has to find urgent alternatives. Plastic bottle manufacturers use mixed polymer plastics, such as sleeve wrappings and coloured plastics, which contaminate the recycling stream and reduce the value of the recycled material. The UK Government plans to introduce a mandated minimum use of 50% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) in new plastic bottles by 2023 at the latest. The UK’s weak Producer Responsibility Obligation fees leave taxpayers to cover around 90% of the costs of packaging waste disposal. This indicates that Producer Responsibility Obligations do not make producers financially responsible for the packaging they are putting on the market.

Tim Carey, Director for Sustainability and Recycling at PepsiCo believes that decisions about packaging are ultimately up to procurement executives. PepsiCo is striving for the five R’s: reduce, recycle, use renewable sources, remove environmentally sensitive materials and promote the reuse of packaging in the entire process of packaging selection, design and procurement. Some Governments enforce taxes on containers depending on their material and recycling potential. Others promote the idea that beverages and condiments like mustard and ketchup be sold in refillable bottles. Currently, many companies are using refillable containers but the containers are not standard and even the different products of one company are packaged in containers of different shape, size and colour. The cost of collecting and transporting empty bottles can be shared between the beverage companies and the retailers but they avoid this process because the collecting, sorting and transportation of the empty reusable bottles requires special facilities, storage area and workers.

Discarding empty containers after just one use is a new idea. Before World War II, nearly all packaged liquids were sold in refillable glass bottles. These reusable bottles have been replaced by less expensive plastic bottles, thinner glass bottles and aluminium cans. Coca-Cola has made major investments in bottle-to-bottle recycling technology for PET, as well as introducing “plantbottle”, a PET container made from sugar cane and sugar cane waste. Unlike PET plastic bottles, aluminium cans can be recycled continuously without loss of quality.

Unlike Alcoa, Novelis no longer owns bauxite mines. Novelis makes the Evercan and sells sheet aluminium to beverage packaging companies like Rexam and Ball which manufacture cans for beverage brands. Novelis also supplies recycled aluminium to automakers like Jaguar, Land Rover, Audi and BMW. By opting for recycled aluminium they can reduce not only the greenhouse gas emissions they cause directly, but also the ‘embedded carbon’ in their vehicles. Processing used aluminium requires about 90% less energy and generates 90% fewer carbon emissions than making aluminium from bauxite. As much as $2bn worth of cans wind up in landfills each year. It means that energy and carbon emissions are needlessly generated to make more cans out of primary aluminium.

Milan Kundera addresses the nature of 21st Century ‘being’ in a world where existence has lost its substance, its weight. We feel, he says, ‘the unbearable lightness of being’ as a consequence of our private and public actions. Every day we unfriend people and throw ‘away’ many objects to partake of fresh temptations. But where is this place called ‘Away’- the place that garbage is sent to? There is no ‘away’. It is- right here!