The UK Government launched their new Environment plan last week. In this they outline plans to extend the 5p charge on plastic bags in most shops and to eradicate all avoidable plastic by 2042.
It is certainly positive to have the government clearly accepting that there is a plastic crisis, somewhat forced I suspect by China’s refusal to no longer accept much of our plastic recycling, but this message needs to be much stronger.
The Plastic Bag Levy
Extending the 5p levy on plastic bags in most shops is good news. Creating a culture change takes time and I believe consumers are changing their behaviour to bring their own bags and re-use the bags they pay for. Other countries that introduced this levy before us, including Wales and Ireland, report a sharp reduction in plastic bag usage. We’ve already seen a drop of nine billion bags in use in the UK since the levy was introduced.
But What About The Rest?
The rest of the environment strategy goals appear to be quite vague and long term. Given the crisis we already face in terms of plastic build up and overuse, setting a date of 2042 to eradicate ‘avoidable’ plastic is far too distant. I’m sure there will be a definition of what ‘avoidable’ means and it will need to include such items as bags, drinking straws, plastic cups etc. which will need to be phased out in a much shorter time frame.
What? No Legislation?
One key issue with this strategy is that, excepting the bag levy extension, there does not appear to be any legislation attached. According to the BBC News report this has angered green groups and it is easy to see why. I agree that a change in culture is the best approach, but as we’ve seen with many culture change programmes (eg. smoking, anti-slavery), backing up plans with legislation ensures that even the most reluctant will have to get on board eventually. It also sends a message that the strategy needs to be taken seriously.
However it is encouraging to see the government making moves to tackle environment issues. This is good for several reasons, firstly because some positive change may actually come of it and secondly it means they have gauged that there is enough of a drive from the people that they believe is in their interests to take environmental issues on.
No Need to Wait, Get Started Now…
Michael Gove has announced that he wants to tackle ‘our throwaway culture’ so we will wait for firmer plans in anticipation and hope. In the meantime there’s no reason not to reduce your plastic usage right now and check out some of the many enterprises with low waste and sustainability at their core.