A year ago I challenged myself to go plastic-free to better understand how plastic permeates all our lives. From teabags to toothbrushes, supermarket sandwiches to toilet roll, plastic can be found in every aspect of modern life. 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic already clogs up our ecosystems and this number is growing every single day.
Over the last year, we have seen an incredible change in people’s perceptions of plastic here in the UK. Media coverage of humanity’s impact on the world has seared into our minds images of suffocating seals, birds’ stomachs filled with plastic products and islands of waste in the Maldives. It’s clear that change is so desperately needed. This is an environmental emergency, with plastics deteriorating into microplastics and entering the food chain, plastic products entangling and killing wildlife and the impact of carcinogenic chemicals used in their creation.
Having worked in the environmental sector, there is an age old question of what comes first - attitude change in the consumer, business or governments. I have always believed that politics is the greatest mechanism for change as a change in legislation creates the structure of change for businesses, stopping bad environmental practice being passed onto the consumer. However despite a clear change in attitude in society, we are seeing a failure of our Government to act. In his budget, rather than taking the clear action to start to clear up this planet such as a ban on single use plastics, The Chancellor instead announced a tax on plastics, one which could easily be passed onto the consumer. I for one don’t want to have to pay a tax on plastic that I never wanted in the first place.
At the same time, the European Union banned single use plastics, creating a clear road map for business to follow. It highlights the products that there are alternatives for - from cutlery, straws and cotton wool buds - and also sets clear recycling targets on plastic bottles and other products not so easily eliminated. This is the bold change that’s so desperately and urgently needed. We must provide the consumer the best choice for the environment by designing plastic out of the consumer chain.
But with Brexit looming, it is vitally important that we mirror these changes in our own laws. If I am honest I don’t have confidence in the Government to follow through on this by themselves, so it’s up to all of us to give them a push. For example, on the 21 December 2017, I wrote to Michael Gove to challenge him on how to make government policy more ambitious, and to address the systemic issues that have meant that plastics have become such a prevalent part of our consumption.
I am excited to see bold step from Thornton’s Budgens supermarket chain to challenge the prevalence of plastic in our society, I hope that their decision will encourage other businesses to move from plastic to an alternative, but I also hope that it will show the Government that they are lagging behind. It’s time for the UK to ban single use plastics, invest in alternatives to plastic and transform our waste management systems so that we can recycle nearly every aspect of what we produce. Only this way can we protect the planet from this destructive waste and preserve it for future generations.