Are you aware of how much plastic you use every day? As a nation we are addicted to single-use plastics. From coffee cups to cutlery, drinks bottles and straws, we treat plastic as a disposable material and casually throw it away. But it is largely indestructible and there is no ‘away’.
As a result, tonnes of plastic are clogging the world’s oceans – with about 12 million tonnes of new plastic entering being dumped in them every year.
Plastic bags, bottles and packaging are building up at such a rate that floating ‘continents’ have formed. One floating plastic island, in the Pacific, is larger than France – and growing.
We all have a role to play to tackle this growing problem. This Lent, I am one of 41 Conservative MPs who have pledged to reduce our use of single-use plastics for 40 days. In addition to cutting our own plastic waste, we hope to raise awareness about the difficulties consumers face in going plastic free in everyday life.
Even while most of us would never knowingly contribute to destroying our beautiful oceans, the truth is, it is hard to escape plastics. It surrounds us; coffee cups that cannot be recycled, plastic water bottles, sandwich wrappers, plastic cutlery, straws and stirrers – and most of all, the totally unnecessary packing that encases so much of the food we buy in supermarkets.
But as a result of growing awareness, helped dramatically by the stunning Blue Planet series, we are beginning to see the tide turn.
The 5p plastic bag charge that was introduced by the Government in 2015 reduced the amount of bags we throw away by 90%. It is now being extended to all shops.
In January, Iceland became the first major UK retailer to commit to eliminating plastic packaging for all its own-brand products, pledging to go plastic-free within five years. Asda has pledged to replace 2.4million plastic straws used in its cafes to paper and introduce reusable drinks cups in its shops and cafes by the end of 2019.
Locally, I’m proud of the steps being taken by Richmond Council to cut plastic waste. As part of that, I’ll be writing to all my local cafés, bars and restaurants calling on them to do their bit to wean our community off plastic. Among other things, I will be encouraging them to help us rid the borough of plastic straws and stirrers, and switching to wholly recyclable coffee cups.
I will be asking the supermarkets to make a much bigger effort to cut back on their packaging. Retailers are a big part of the problem, but they could so easily be a big part of the solution.
If we are to protect our environment and marine life for future generations, we all have a role to play – in our individual lives, but also as consumers with buying power. I hope that our plastic pledges for Lent can raise awareness and encourage others to end the plastic scourge.