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Wednesday, 2nd January 2019

VOTE: Which sustainability issue will have its 'plastics moment' in 2019?

New years are always a time of reflection, introspection and planning - for sustainability professionals and the general public alike. With this in mind, edie has explored the environmental and social issues which could have their own "plastics moment" in 2019.

Have your say on what the 'hot topics' in the UK's sustainability sphere could be in 2019

Have your say on what the 'hot topics' in the UK's sustainability sphere could be in 2019

More than a year after Blue Planet 2 kick-started a wave of plastics actions from consumers, policymakers and corporates, the war on plastic is undeniably still high on the sustainability agenda.

2018 saw a huge increase in awareness of – and action to combat – the 12 million tonnes of plastics added to the world’s oceans each year, with WRAP founding the UK Plastics Pact in April and 276 companies joining the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy in October.

Elsewhere, innovators have moved at a pace to develop recycling solutions, biodegradable alternatives and new uses for post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics, while the UK Government has unveiled plans for a nationwide deposit-return scheme and plastic straw ban.

But in parallel to this rise in plastics action, several other sustainability issues are beginning to come to the forefront of the UK public’s attention. As with plastic, other areas are now facing new waves of scrutiny borne from exposés on primetime TV or new scientific studies laying bare their negative consequences.

With this in mind, edie has scanned the horizon for five sustainability issues which could begin to have their “plastics moment” within the next 12 months.

1) Palm oil

Palm oil appears in more than 50% of all supermarket products, but the commodity is linked to environmental destruction in global supply chains. Expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where many species are being threatened with extinction.

While several big-name companies had already pledged to end their role in palm oil-led deforestation before 2018, the issue experienced unprecedented public attention after Iceland’s advert that highlighted the destructive nature of palm oil was blocked from airing on UK television channels in December.

After publicly committing to remove the oil from all its own-brand products last April, the retailer had planned to air Greenpeace’s animated ‘Rang-tan’ advert – which tells the story of a displaced Orangutan breaking into a family home after losing his habitat – before Christmas, but the video was blocked from airing on UK TV channels after being dubbed “too political” by regulator Clearcast.

Clearcast’s decision sparked widespread outrage, with more than 800,000 people signing a petition demanding that the advert be aired across Clearcast ’s major UK commercial broadcasters - ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Turner. 

However, several green groups and NGOs then began to voice concerns around knee-jerk consumer and retailer reactions, with the IUCN concluding that a palm oil phase-out would likely displace habitat loss and deforestation rather than eliminating it. Similarly, WWF has placed an increased focus on “clean” and sustainably-sourced palm oil instead of alternatives such as rapeseed and coconut oil.

2) Air quality