The EU is set to ban single-use plastics in 2020, but the city council in Milan has decided to take on this environmental challenge early. The regional capital of Lombardy is going to be the first Italian city to go entirely plastic-free. A pilot project has been launched in January, targeting small areas of the city, in which single-use plastic items are not allowed and business owners are being invited to join the program on a voluntary basis. In this phase, the ban is not yet compulsory, but over 200 bars, restaurants and shops have already joined. Businesses that participate in the program are allowed to exhibit a “Milano Plastic-Free” sticker on their windows, thus declaring themselves as actively engaged in fighting the increase of non-recyclable waste in Italian and European landfills – the kind of waste that, as countless documentaries have shown, inevitably end up in the ocean, killing sea life and irreparably corrupting marine ecosystems.
”Milano plastic-free” – easing the city in
Milan has been promoting sustainable lifestyles for years. It is therefore no surprise that it should be the first Italian city to implement the new European directive that will be enforced in 2020. The City already has the highest recycling rates in Italy and citizens are used to being mindful of the environmental impact of their habits. Inviting business owners and their clients to join in this new experiment is a way of easing the city into what will inevitably be a major shift in consumer habits. While the program is still directed exclusively at bars, shops and restaurants, the local administration has declared that the next step will be to ban single-use plastics in all public offices, and that private citizens are invited to consider substituting items such as plastic cups, cutlery and wrappings with recyclable alternatives in their everyday life.
Single-use plastics are killing the planet
“The impact of [single-use]plastics on the environment is a tragedy of our time” said Barbara Meggetto, leader of Legambiente Lombardia – one of the organisations that has been partnering with the local administration on this project “for years we have been convinced that their eventual destination depended on correct practices in collecting and separating waste, today it is clear that efforts should focus on reducing single-use plastics and swapping them for alternative materials such as bioplastics, which can be used to produce the same goods, but are entirely biodegradable. The alternatives are available, now we need to work on changing consumer habits”.
A successful experiment
The “Milano plastic-free” project has been met with nothing but enthusiasm by the locals. Volunteers from Legambiente have been actively recruiting business owners in the targeted areas, offering free audits of each business’ use of plastics and providing viable alternatives for each activity’s specific needs, as well as providing plenty of material for both the business owners and their clients to learn about the dangers of single-use plastics and the advantages of biodegradable alternatives.
The big picture
Italy ranks second in Europe for the production of plastics, almost half of which are used as packaging. In 2017, this amounted to over 2M tons of materials, only 43% of which was recycled, while 40% was incinerated (which is obviously damaging to the environment in other ways), and the remaining 17% either ends up in landfills or is misplaced and dispersed in the environment, ending up on beaches, in fields, in rivers and lakes. While an optimist might look at the percentage of recycled plastics and be favourably impressed, others might do the math and realise that over 340K tons of plastics are being released into the environment every year, and that the current situation is no longer tenable. Projects like “Milano plastic-free” are the only way forward.