Banning Problem Plastics

Is Victoria’s Single-Use Plastic Ban going in the right direction?

Less Waste; More Care

Victoria, the home state of Australia’s biggest city, recently announced it will ban single-use plastics by February 2023.

Cobalt looks forward to seeing Victoria’s plastic waste significantly reduce through this new initiative, so long as the result can be sustained long-term, and the end-user’s needs are championed in the process. Regardless, the new scheme is a positive move in the right direction and provides a solid groundwork for a better environment in Victoria.

We believe most people are ready to do more in terms of recycling and reducing plastic waste. For example, we’ve noticed this trend in our design research, and more tangibly from our clients, who in turn are responding to end-user’s preferences toward more sustainable products.

Cobalt Principal Steve Martinuzzo believes that “we are seeing more client’s genuinely care that the products they produce, reduce – rather than add – to the problems of waste, excess and social exclusion.”

Given this, it would appear the government is simply (and commendably) listening and reacting to emerging community sentiment. According to Steve “the case against avoidable single-use plastic packaging is mounting, so we need to find smarter ways, through design and innovation, to provide other solutions which suit users’ needs.”

Is all plastic bad?

One might believe that if single-use plastics are banned, then shouldn’t all plastics be as well? With alternative lifestyles such as plastic-free or zero waste becoming increasingly popular and the threat of irreversible climate change gnawing at people’s consciences, it’s easy to portray plastic as the enemy. But is it?

To put it simply, no. But it’s more complex than that.

Plastic at its core is durable, lightweight, flexible and relatively low cost. Ultimately, it is a resource that can be the most suitable one in many situations.  Plastic will continue to play a role in our everyday lives – whether it’s in our technology or our cupboards. What needs to change is the current mindset and habits regarding plastic.  The problem is not plastic; it’s the plastic waste that can be avoidable.

Roll it out the right way

At Cobalt, user-centred design has always been one of our biggest priorities. Our work with KeepCup embodies this view, with Steve saying that “doing good is pointless if people don’t want to use the alternative. With KeepCup we first stopped to understand user’s takeaway coffee habits. Only then did we set about changing their behaviours in a design which suited these needs. This resulted in establishing a new culture of reusable coffee cups. Achieving lasting behavioural change was our greatest accomplishment.

This process of understanding user needs before designing an alternative that people want, needs to be applied to this scheme, rolled out across a vast array of existing single-use plastic packaging formats. It will be a massive challenge, but done well, one product-category at a time, we believe the alternatives will be truly embraced, rather than begrudgingly abided by, which is the key to changing behaviours and the key to meaningful change.

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