Two powerful forces are impelling a global trend away from disposable plastic items and toward something of a renaissance for their paper counterparts. Those forces are the efforts of environmentalists who are making themselves heard by governments and the horrendous collection and disposal problems posed by throwaway plastics.
France now appears the first western developed nation to enact a total ban on disposable plastics. As the Associated Press reports, "...picnickers won't be able to buy plastic goblets to drink their beloved wine, or plastic knives to make ham and butter baguette sandwiches. ...coffee machines will no longer cough out plastic cups...." The ban, which took effect in August, follows a ban on plastic bags that has been in place since July. The French prohibitions give producers until 2020 to make sure that all disposables sold in France are made of biologically sourced material that can be composted. (Read paper and paper măché.)
Several other countries, some US states, and states and provinces in other countries have also enacted various kinds of bans on plastic bags and plastic table ware. One hundred and twenty-two jurisdictions in the San Francisco Bay area have enacted such bans. The State of Hawaii prohibits stores from supplying customers with plastic bags. There is a similar ban in Portland, Oregon, and in coastal North Carolina.
In other nations, the Indian State of Karnataka, has completely outlawed the use of plastics across the state, including bags, plastic table ware and even cling films. The state is joined in the ban by a number of major cities in India. Ethiopia and Morocco have enacted bans on the production, import, sale and distribution of plastic bags, as have Bangladesh, Rwanda, China, Taiwan and Macedonia. A large number of towns and cities in Australia are now said to be plastic-free. The list of jurisdictions goes on and is fully expected to grow much longer.
What does this mean for the global pulp and paper industry? There appear to be, at present, only two viable alternatives to plastic bags: cloth reusable bags and paper sacks. Some stores, even in jurisdictions where plastic has not yet been outlawed, are selling reusable cloth bags to their customers. Will papermakers crank up the mothballed machines that once turned out millions and millions of paper bags? Are the makers of paper plates and cups casting eyes at the possibility of more production and sales? Whether the bad news for plastics producers will result in good news for the pulp and paper industry remains to be seen, although it seems likely. We'll be watching the drama unfold, so stay tuned!
Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.