Plastics pledge: another reason for the single market

At the end of April, the leading UK supermarkets signed up to the Plastics Pledge, which aims to have all plastic packaging capable of being re-used, recycled or composed by 2025. In itself this is good, but it also gives a snapshot of the value of the Single Market, and the other side of those maligned “regulations”

Few people can be unaware of the growing publicity around plastic in the environment. It‘s great that our plastic bags and or drink bottles don‘t fall apart on us, but not at all great when the same plastic harms wildlife in the sea or in landfill — pictures of the stomachs of dead sea birds clogged with plastic should ring alarm bells, but plastic broken into tiny pieces is a serious problem, and much harder to address.

Addressing this is problematic. For an individual supermarket chain to act means they risk pushing up their costs. It is possible to offset that by appealing to the increasing numbers of environmentally-conscious consumers, but it is still a risk.

Greenpeace’s Plastics Pledge is a good idea. Tesco, Sainsbury‘s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose, are all supporting it: working together means that none of them lose ground to their competitors over this.

But there would be a strong case for legislation over this, so no business has a competitive advantage from ruining the environment in this way. The problem is that, if the British government acts alone over this, it risks putting British business at a disadvantage. In effect, this is the same problem as for an individual business, but pushed up a level.

For the EU as a whole to act on this, by tightening the regulations for the single market, we would improve environmental standards without disproportionately harming any one business. That is not as good as getting global agreement on this, but as the world‘s second largest economy*, but the sheer size of the single market means it would be a major step forward.

Those who equate the EU with “regulations” would take exception to this – it means more regulations. It would be a problem to the ethically-dubious “bad citizens” of the corporate world. But we all have the same rules, competition is not interrupted, and business has an incentive not to harm the environment.

Those who equate the EU with “regulations” and then add the adjective “burdensome” miss the point. Carefully-crafted regulations don‘t get in the way of business or competition, but do provide a way to take account of need to protect our world. The flip side of this is that the cavalier avoidance of “regulations”s threatens to create a world reflecting our worst instincts: that is bad for many people in the short term, and all of us in the long term.

* depending on whether you measure the sizes of the economies by nominal GDP or purchasing power parity the order is USA, EU, China, or China, EU, USA

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