Our news has been full of announcements about new laws to reduce single-use plastics and non-recyclables. Some news agencies have attributed the rise in public interest to the shocking images of plastic on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. The public is also seeing the plastic pollution for themselves, especially on beaches around the UK, and the government here and abroad are beginning to see a need for policies to discourage plastics. Companies are also feeling the pressure from consumers to stop using single-use plastics.
This blog will go through the main stories surrounding plastic this month.
The UK Government
The Labour and Green Parties are calling for the Conservatives to bring in measures forcing supermarkets to release statistics on how much plastic they use, and the Green Party states that supermarkets should pay more of the cost of dealing with these plastics. Defra has said that it plans to reform the producer responsibility system so that producers have an incentive to take greater responsibility for the environmental impact of their products.
Theresa May announced a pledge to stop all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. This included announcing that the 5p plastic bag charge would be rolled out to small shops in England. WRAP, the government’s waste action body, will explore whether supermarkets can open plastic-free aisles were all food is loose. It is important to note that there was no mention of a charge for disposable cups or a bottle collection scheme. These have both been discussed by the government and the latter has been shown to be effective: in Germany, with their bottle deposit scheme, 90% of bottles are returned and recycled or reused.
The government are also facing the ban on imported plastic waste to China. Two-thirds of the UK’s total plastic waste exports have been shipped to China so the UK recycling industry will be significantly impacted. It may mean an end to the collection of certain types of plastic, plastic being incinerated or put into landfill. This offers the UK an opportunity to develop its infrastructure and create a circular economy in plastics. However, there is no plan in place to achieve this, or to cope with the impacts of the Chinese ban, as Michael Gove, environment secretary, admitted.
A surge of companies have come out with various pledges to reduce their use of plastic;
Costa has announced they will replace all plastic straws with non-plastic alternatives by the end of the year. They have already removed straws from their condiments unit.
Waitrose announced it would stop the selling of packs of disposable straws from September 2018 and switch all its own brand meat, fish, fruit and veg from black plastic trays to more sustainable alternatives by the end of the year.
Wagamama has announced that from 22nd April (Earth Day) they will switch to paper alternative straws which will be available on request. In the meantime, they have stopped automatically giving out straws when unnecessary.
Iceland announced it will phase out all plastic packaging from its own brand products by 2023.
Find out more about what supermarkets are doing here.
Jenny Derry launched Anything But Plastic after becoming frustrated with the difficulty in maintaining a plastic-free lifestyle. Her website sells a variety of products to help you reduce your plastic use.
Buying your own bamboo, glass, paper or stainless-steel straws (which Anything But Plastic sells) helps reduce your consumption of a short shelf-life plastic product, one of
the more insidious polluters in the sea.
Find a local wholefoods supplier such as Arjuna on Mill Road to buy products with more sustainable, or zero packaging, or, if supermarkets are unavoidable, opt for the package-free fruit and veg, use brown paper bags rather than plastic or take your own bags.
BeeBee Wraps sells a beautiful, reusable, biodegradable alternative to Clingfilm and foil. From humble beginnings in Kath Austin’s kitchen, after hearing that people have used cotton coated in beeswax for centuries she set out to bring this old fashion back to solve our 21st Centaury problems.
Not using single-use plastics will contribute to a change in consumers’ attitudes, too. It is a move that is praised by most and needed if we are to tackle the huge plastic pollution we have across the globe, which is so far-reaching it is found in the stomachs of creatures who live in the deepest parts of the ocean. Each step taken by individuals, organisations or the government will contribute to a move towards a sustainable society.