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Green Party And Ex-Asda Boss Both Call For Ban On Single-Use Plastics

16/10/2017 09:19 BST | Updated 16/10/2017 09:19 BST
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In one week, the Green Party and former Asda boss Andy Clarke have come to the same conclusion: we have to end the use of unnecessary single-use plastics. That perhaps surprising political convergence is a sign of just how far the issue has risen up the agenda.

Since the 1950s, the world has seen the production of more than 8 billion tonnes of plastic. That's a figure being added to at a rate of 300 million tonnes a year. This is now a plastic planet - our seas turn into a plastic soup, or land choked with the stuff.

Slowly, we've become aware of the issue, and started to take limited, inadequate action. Carrier bags hooked in trees, floating in rivers, were obvious, and easy, with a small tax cutting use in England by 85%.

Microbeads, microscopic plastic grit in cosmetics and cleansers, appeared, to save multinational companies fractions in cost - and then it was asked "where do they go?" (not a difficult question to answer - down the drain and into the seas again being the answer) and they're now on the way out.

Bristol-based City to Sea targetted plastic-stem cotton buds as the main plastic item found on SW beaches. Now, all major UK retailers are converting to biodegradable paper stem buds by the end of the year, but many are selling these in single-use plastic containers.

The figure of five billion coffee cups a year produced in the UK, and almost none of them recycled, attracted attention. Plastic straws have recently come under the microscope and some companies have promised to stop using them.

We could go on - targeting this or that plastic item, and in a couple of decades that might make a difference to the overall volume. But that's not something we can wait for, with the issue labelled "as dangerous as climate change", and the latest knowledge that microplastics are in our drinking water, our salt, and probably anywhere you can think of.

So the Green Party at its autumn conference called for the step that we so obviously need, unanimously backing a call to ban all unnecessary single-use plastics.

Gus Hoyt from Refill - the leading UK tap water initiative - has said "Plastics are this generation's CFCs. We must demand our governments come together to take united action to protect our oceans and ourselves for future generations."

As on so many other subjects, from the living wage to 20mph speed limits where people live, work and shop, the Green Party leading the way in the UK, although globally others, notably Costa Rica and the Indian state of Karnataka, are ahead of us. And even some surprising individual companies, like Sky, are taking unilateral action within their operations.

Many people are taking action to cut down their consumption of plastic - carrying a reusable water bottle and a coffee cup, trying to reject packaging when they can -- but as an individual it is extraordinarily hard to exclude single-use plastic from your life. It is just about everywhere, and in very few places where it is actually making our life better or simpler.

It shouldn't require extraordinary efforts, or any effort at all, to live in a way that isn't trashing this one fragile, much-abused planet - which means ending single-use plastics. What is needed here is system change, legal reform to force corporations to take responsibility for their actions, for the way they're trashing the planet, as Greenpeace is seeking to do with Coca-Cola.

As with so much else that we need to do to live within Earth's limits, we need to make plastic-free living the normal, easy, simplest, cheapest option.

Some will say, well can't we recycle? And in the short-term, certainly we need to increase our disastrously poor 15% recycling rate. But even Germany, with its excellent systems, only manages a 93% recycling rate for one of the easiest options, the plastic known as PET. That's still further choking the planet.

And others will suggest biodegradable, organic plastics. But these can mess up the recycling we'll continue to need for some time, and they generally only degrade in the ideal conditions of industrial facilities, not in the back garden compost heap, or the ocean.

We will need to rethink a lot of the way we do things, to get rid of single-use plastics. Cafes, many of which have disgracefully abandoned china cups and metal spoons altogether, will have to put in washing up facilities. Supermarkets will have to shorten supply chains and supply fresher food. Cheese could come from the deli counter in waxed paper.

Most of these changes would - like much we need to do - make our life better. And create more jobs. And give us tastier food.

Those are the positives. It's good to focus on those, while also acknowledging that the planet cannot afford the throw-away culture that's so disfigured and damaged our ecosystems. For we've got to learn, fast, that there's no such thing as "throwing away" the huge quantities of single-use plastics that pollute our lives today.