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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge


Timo Herberz

Sustainability Assessment of a Single-use Plastics Ban

Governments around the world are introducing single-use plastics bans to alleviate plastic marine pollution. This dissertation investigates whether banning plastic items is an appropriate strategy to protect the environment. Product life cycle assessment was conducted for single-use plastic and single-use non-plastic alternatives. The life cycle impacts of the two product categories were compared and scaled according to EU consumption of 2016. The results show that a single-use plastics ban would decrease plastic marine pollution in the EU by 5.5%, which equates to a 0.06% decrease globally. However, such a ban would increase emissions contributing to marine aquatic toxicity in the EU by 1.4%. This dissertation concludes that single-use items are harmful to the environment regardless of their material. Therefore, banning or pricing single-use items regardless of their material composition is a more effective method of reducing consumption and thereby pollution. The plastics ban only leads to a small reduction of global plastic marine pollution and, thus, provides only a partial solution to the problem it intends to solve.