Producers and consumers play an important role in the fight against plastic pollution, particularly as far as single-use plastics (SUPs) are concerned, that depend on product eco-design and change in consumption patterns. The EU acknowledges the role of producers and consumers, and established goals for Member States, often in the form of rules addressed to the industry. The challenges caused by SUPs were, however, increased by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to an exponential production of protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, food packaging and take-away containers. This contribution thus purports to address the question of how nudging can foster sustainable practices regarding plastics in Europe during and after the coronavirus crisis. Based on the understanding that behavioural insights are useful to both policy and lawmakers and on statistical information available on the impact on consumer choice and the environment, this contribution demonstrates the utility of nudges in the particular COVID-19 scenario and concludes that consumers shall be given a prominent role in the orchestration of the transition to a sustainable plastics economy. In order to do so, the contribution: (1) describes the omnipresence of plastics in the products offered to consumers; (2) contextualises the European approach to SUPs in the pursuit for a circular economy; (3) summarises the impacts of the coronavirus crisis on the environment and on the law in Europe; (4) describes the role of stakeholders in a sustainable plastics economy; and (5) sets the importance of addressing consumer behaviour through nudging in the fight against SUPs.
THE OMNIPRESENCE OF PLASTICS IN THE WORLD OF CONSUMERS
Since their first appearance in 1907, several kinds of polymers have been developed, and we know all of them as “plastic”. Plastics are used for applications as diverse as packaging, electric and electronic equipment, construction, agriculture, healthcare, automotive, clothing, cosmetics, furniture, and toys.
Plastic products and materials are a popular product in modern daily life. They are durable, water resistant, highly functional, and versatile, and may be purchased for a relatively low cost. They have been rapidly and deeply ingrained in people’s day-to-day lives in such a way that we can speak today of an “addiction to plastics”.