On the daily

The trouble with banning plastic straws and everything else

On holiday with the extended family – brothers, sisters, cousins all together to celebrate the Matriarch’s 80th birthday and the conversation turns to straws with my brother who works in hospitality in the UK.

His hotel is making the switch to paper straws and have immediately run into two issues: (1) The paper ones are 4x the price and (2) in some drinks they disintegrate: a failure of price and performance.

This will likely be repeated as we work our way down the list of plastic goods to be banned. Price is certainly an issue in our category as we prepare to launch gCycle in the UK. There is nothing in the world as cheap and effective as plastic. Over 70 years we have refined and perfected the art of extracting oil, extruding plastic and making everything we can think of out of plastic. It’s really the McDonalds of a material. In small amounts as originally intended, all good but today like the fast food / obesity epidemic plastic is killing us.

So what is the answer in a world where we all want cheap, convenient and now sustainable?

The combination of China banning the importation of recyclables along with very low recycling rates globally, I do not believe recycling is the answer. It’s missing the surge of the problem, the material we use to make products in the first place. And most recycling is really down-cycling: an ever-decreasing value of the products being made from recycling.

I think the answer is to bring into the world new materials that are designed with the end in mind. These are materials used in products that follow Cradle to Cradle principles.

By definition, these materials are more expensive than plastic and will remain so until mass adoption is achieved. To bridge the gap between here and there, I see Government subsidies as a key piece of the puzzle. I see no other way to accelerate to a Circular Economy away from the current Linear one.

With the price issue resolved, there will be more viable businesses able to test and tweak new materials to make products that match the performance of their plastic alternatives.

Banning plastic products alone will not see the change we seek. We need a little pricing support too to kick things off.

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