Single-use plastic plates, cutlery and food packaging will be banned in Belarus from January 2021
The Government introduces measures to incentivize recycling and gradually reduce polymer packaging
Deposit-return containers in stores, glass packaging for beverages, and separate plastic waste collection at mass events – these and other measures were passed for implementation by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus in their Resolution No. 7 "On gradually reducing the use of polymer packaging" adopted on 13 January 2020. The UN in Minsk looks into details of government plans aimed at reduction of the consumption of plastics.
First, it should be noted that Belarus has been developing and gradually implementing a systematic state policy aimed at protecting the environment and reducing the use of plastics. The Government decision helps implement the 2019 President's Framework Directive No. 7, also Resolution on the ban on disposable plastics in the public catering, and draft Resolution on increasing the fee for plastic packaging for business, and others. It is in line with recommendations of the National Council for Sustainable Development and it is a good step towards a green and sustainable growth model. It is also notable that Belarus steps in sync with best international practices and solutions tested by global leaders in this area.
Let us recall that in April 2019 the European Parliament decided to ban single-use plastic from the use and sale in the EU. By 2024, disposable tableware, drinking straws, thin plastic bags, etc., will be banned in EU countries which creates both challenges, but also economic opportunities for people and industry to develop new ways of managing the consumption, changing unsustainable practices and reducing plastic pollution.
Coming back to Belarus -- the Council of Ministers plan of measures stipulates how the authorities intend to reduce the use of plastic packaging in the coming years. The exact list of types of disposable plastic goods to be banned in catering places from next year is to be determined in the course of 2020. Other measures to be put in place from 2021 concern food producers and retailers and aim at limiting the use of plastic bottling of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages (of up to 1 litre capacity) and introduction of a deposit-return system in stores. In addition, the Resolution regulates further the mechanism of waste collection (including separate plastic waste bins at mass events), and puts emphasis on increasing the capacity of waste sorting, recycling and processing of secondary resources.
It’s interesting to note that Belarus puts a special premium on environmentally friendly packaging as one of the solutions to plastic. Paper, glass and biodegradable packaging will be promoted and the capacity for the production of raw materials for such packaging within the country is to increase. This requires reorienting of the existing plastic packaging production facilities and modernizing them to start production of environmentally friendly alternatives. This aspect of the Government plan, although fully on-target and correct as a measure, will be complex in terms of implementation. All experts realise and environmentalists warn that when introducing environmentally friendly packaging, one has to make sure that conditions exist for decomposition and recycling of such types of packaging. At his point in time, there is no separate collection of organic waste in Belarus, thus all biodegradable packaging will still end up in methane-emitting landfills.
Still, every measure to limit the use of single use plastic is crucial. Globally, 99% of the world's plastics are made of non-renewable resources -- oil, natural gas or coal. Half of all plastics are produced with the assumption of being discarded immediately after the first use. While the world is beginning to understand the extent of environmental pollution by plastic waste, few countries are ready for revolutionary change. Belarus is not standing aside, and the current Government action plan is a great proof that when it comes to environment, there is both political will, and also concrete solutions in the legislation that will allow the state and non-state actors to tackle the problem.
Of course, in our modern life plastic will continue to play an important role. In transport, medicine, communications plastic plays a very important role. The problem is that as countries and private consumers we should be paying more attention to how much plastics we use, what kind of plastic we buy (is it recyclable?) and do we at all need so much of it everywhere, every day. This battle starts from personal commitment. We must be more judicious in using plastic and paying for plastic every day. We need to start saying “no” to easily-available and free-of-charge shopping bags. We need to stop buying the loads of clothes, small gadgets, children’s toys, also artificial flowers, etc. We need to rationalize the use of plastic in the workplace -- conference room production like plastic pens, name tags and badges look great at the event, but their lifespan is short. They clutter our desks and homes while other solutions are easily available. Water in plastic bottles rarely comes from a pure spring, so is it really better quality than the free water in the tap? First step is personal – look around and realise the amount of waste we create by our every-day choices.
Of course, it is important to have economic incentives and the capital for such "transition". Governments should not only inform, regulate and financially nudge ordinary citizens to make the right decision. The state can play an important role in creating serious incentives to businesses and industry to replace disposable plastic containers with reusable ones. It is a major challenge, for Belarus and other industrialised nations, to find effective technologies and financial mechanisms, to switch to a circular economy.
The UN system in Belarus has been working actively promoting innovative solutions and bringing best practices and knowledge from international experts. Last year, as the UN Resident Coordinator spoke about disposable packaging at the Council on Sustainable Development. At the end of 2019, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched the first National Plastics Platform for Belarus which should help integrate the efforts of various stakeholders and facilitate their joint focus and co-creation of innovative, economically viable and environmentally sound solutions of plastic problem in Belarus.
Other UN agencies, including WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA are working actively to promote healthy lifestyles, including environmentally responsible every-day consumption. As the Government and people of Belarus demonstrate clearly the commitment to environment and a strong interest in innovations, the UN family is delighted to work with Belarussian partners to further develop the systematic state policy aimed at reducing the use of plastics.
This is another area where Belarus stands out among other countries of the region. This is Belarus’s contribution and action on the Global Goals which we support, welcome and are happy to promote on the global stage!