You may have heard that the UK Government have announced their 25 year plan for the Environment, which promises to eradicate avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.
Now, that’s excellent, I’m pleased that they have heard the cry for action on plastic waste and they put forward proposals that could go some way to achieve their promise. But (oh why is there always a but?), why then do I have this niggle of doubt, this itch of cynicism and this sense of being utterly underwhelmed?
I should probably preface this post by admitting that I am not a fan of our government. I have little faith in their promises. I don’t trust that they’re doing this for the right reasons (i.e. to save the planet), but rather to claw back some of that youth vote they’re sorely lacking. And also because it’s fashionable and what people want to hear.
Despite this, I have tried to approach this announcement positively (although I know it probably doesn’t sound like it!). It is a positive thing. It’s making plastic pollution headline news and it’s great that the government are making plans to sort it out.
And there are some good proposals in there:
- The extension of the 5p charge for plastic carrier bags to all retailers in England (long overdue in my opinion, and it could go further by banning them all together)
- Supermarkets will be urged to introduce plastic free aisles (great, as long as it isn’t subject to same price hikes as ‘free from’ aisles)
- Supporting water companies, high street retailers, coffee shops and transport hubs to offer new refill points for people to top-up water bottles for free in every major city and town in England. (This will be great, as discussed in my ‘Refill Revolution‘ post).
- Government funding for plastics innovation (excellent proposal, there are alternatives to plastic and this funding will help make plastic free the new normal)
- A commitment to do more help developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste, including through UK aid (good recognition that this is an international problem that the UK cannot solve alone).
- A call for evidence on taxes or charges on single use plastics (rather non-committal and a fear this could go the same way as the ‘sugar tax’ – nowhere).
Theresa May spoke passionately about the need to reduce our plastic waste and rightly described it as “one of the great environmental scourges of our time”.
The plan also looks to tackle wider environmental issues, including air and water quality, biodiversity, environmental hazards, the sustainable and efficient use of resources and engagement with the natural environment. Along with reducing waste, the government is seeking to mitigate and adapt to climate change, manage exposure to chemicals and enhance biosecurity.
So, what’s wrong with it?
I cannot argue with any of the above. If it all comes about, then maybe we could see the end of avoidable plastics by 2042. Did you spot my ‘if’? See that’s the thing, this is all very nice, but it’s all a bit woolly, a bit non-committal. There is little urgency to it – I’ll be 54 in 2042 and we can do a lot of damage in 25 years.
I want to see immediate action; I want to see laws put in place to make sure this stuff is actually delivered. I don’t want politicians using the environment as a political chess piece, paying lip service to popular policies that they don’t actually have to deliver.
And it seems I’m not alone. Greenpeace have described the plan as a “missed opportunity”, particularly the omission of a proposal for a deposit return scheme for bottles. Others have questioned the lack of a clear timetable and laws.
I really wanted to be positive about this but it’s so easy to just write off Conservative policy especially after years of broken promises when it comes to the environment. Don’t get me started of Mrs May’s “Conservatism and Conservation go hand in hand” comment – her 2017 election manifesto called for a review of the fox hunting ban which she later thankfully pulled. But we can be thankful that this announcement goes a long way to raise awareness of the plastic problem and I have everything crossed that proposals turn into action.
Our work is not done…
Now this isn’t job done, far from it. We need to continue to fight for our cause, to lobby governments around the world to really make a change. But we also need to make a change at home. Yes petitions to governments help, but we shouldn’t wait for government policy to take the plastic pledge. If we stop buying plastic in the first place, we can send a clear message that enough is enough. So grab your cotton carrier bags, your bamboo toothbrushes and reusable coffee cups and join me. Send a message to the government and the manufacturers that single use plastic has no place in our homes and in our country.