Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans each year. Recently, it emerged that plastics have even been discovered in creatures living in the Marianna Trench, the lowest point in all of the oceans, seven miles beneath the sea!
In response to this situation, the Government is expected to make an announcement calling for trials and subsequent evidence on whether a tax on the most environmentally damaging single-use plastics would help. Whilst this is clearly moving in the right direction, is it sufficient? Could these four steps also address the problem?
1) Reduce and reuse
Reducing the amount of unnecessary single-use plastics will have a fundamentally positive effect. FACT. Campaign groups have started by targeting specific products such as plastic straws, which has already led to Wetherspoons committing to remove plastic straws from their pubs by January 2018.
Promoting the re-use of plastics (in theory, eliminating the single-use issue) will also have a profound and almost immediate effect and compostable options, including cutlery and containers, should also be considered. Once again, pro-active, forward-thinking high street retailers are taking the baton, with Pret-A-Manger introducing filtered water stations to give customers the option of refilling a reusable bottle rather than buying drinks in single-use plastic bottles. Some excellent PR points to be gained here!
2) Highlight the value of plastic waste
Plastic dominates packaging because it is durable, light. These are great attributes for packaging but are terrible when it gets into our rivers and oceans. One startling statistic is that every piece of plastic ever manufactured still remains on the planet in some form because it doesn’t biodegrade! The general public needs to be made aware that waste plastic has a value. It can be transformed into a wide variety of useful products, such as park benches, signage, bollards and even boats!
In an attempt to do prove this, Environmental campaigns charity Hubbub, built a boat made out of 99% recycled plastic that will be used by children and businesses to fish plastics out of the waterways in London. The Plastic Fishing campaign will reduce litter and demonstrate that collected plastic can be turned into a variety of useful products. To that end, Encompass Safety Solutions is offering 20 people the opportunity to take part in a plastic fishing trip in London’s Docklands.
3) Better education is key
Expecting every part of society to know the many options available to them in terms of recycling is unrealistic at best, therefore a plan of educating people is crucial and schools are an excellent place to start. The plastics issue will negatively affect yet another generation if changes are not implemented by the youngsters now. Taking this education home with them to further educate their parents will drive home the messages, reinforcing good domestic waste-management habits.
4) Retailer support for consumer litter
With vast amounts of plastic litter coming from high street retailers such as coffee shops and fast-food outlets, they should be obligated to offer better support in terms of the collection and recycling of the waste created by their wares. Many are now seen to be offering segregation bins within their stores so that plastic waste can be separated from the rest in order to be collected and sent for recycling. Some coffee shops are offering discounted drinks if the customer brings their own cup in, leading to less paper cups being used and a huge reduction in the requirement for a plastic lid! It’s a good start but is it enough? With no legislation in place to force their hand, these efforts are voluntary.
In summary. whilst a new tax is the most obvious action to take against the worst culprits, this would inevitably manifest itself as higher prices for the consumer at the tills. Perhaps a better approach would be to offer an increase in the number of opportunities for communities to get involved, which in turn will educate and promote best-practices across neighbourhoods.