Earlier this week, I hosted the launch of a joint report by Brita and Keep Britain Tidy which looked at the behavioural issues around people switching to reusable bottles. People seem to be more aware and more willing to consider alternatives, but convenience has a lot to do with whether someone actually makes the switch and then sticks with it.
Given that my reusable water bottle has become a permanent fixture since giving up plastic for Lent, my purge on plastics has shifted to smaller single-use items like cotton wool buds and drinks stirrers which are so imbedded in our everyday lives. As I have made my way around my constituency on my “Pub Tour”, I have become increasingly incensed by plastic straws. As a country, we use a straw for an average of 20 minutes, and throw away 8.5billion each year. The majority end up in our seas, where it will take about 200 years for them to break down – if they aren’t first ingested by one of the 100,000 sea mammals that die from eating plastic waste every year. Make no mistake, straws suck.
The tide is turning. Towards the end of last year, Wetherspoon’s was one of a number of restaurant chains to announce that in their pubs like the Penny Black in Bicester they would be replacing plastic straws in favour of their biodegradable paper alternative. The Evening Standard’s “Last Straw” campaign which launched in January calls on Londoners to eradicate plastic straws from the capital. As part of the ambition to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042, the Government has now announced plans to end the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. A consultation will follow later this year. Hook Norton Brewery in my own constituency are already using up stocks of straws and stirrers at their Malthouse Kitchen, and won’t be buying anymore.
Businesses and consumers can all play a part – whether that be by looking at alternatives, or saying no to a plastic straw in a drink during this spell of warm weather – a message reiterated at this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The Prime Minister has urged all Commonwealth countries to sign-up to the newly-formed Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, and do their bit to clean up the 150 tonnes of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. To help make this happen, the UK Government has committed to a £61.4million package of funding to boost global research and help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place.
We all have a part to play in the crackdown on plastics; the sustainability of our natural environment matters too much for us not to try.
Victoria Prentis is the Conservative MP for Banbury