Tony Lloyd welcomes war on plastic

Date published: 13 January 2018

Rochdale Labour MP Tony Lloyd has welcomed the war on avoidable plastic, announced by Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday (11 January).

Mr Lloyd has also previously raised the issue of plastic polluting oceans in parliament. He said: “It is really good news; it is a good start. However, we need to see urgency put in because the government timetable of 25-years is ridiculous.

"Many people in Rochdale will have watched the Blue Planet II series and written letters to do more.

“There is also some confusion over what can be recycled, so this needs to be clearer and I will be taking this up with Greater Manchester waste. I will also be questioning why different areas collect different materials.”

The prime minister’s speech focused heavily on avoidable plastic waste and promised the UK would lead internationally on environmental issues.

The 5p plastic bag levy will also be extended to smaller shops, and a charge on single-use plastic containers will be looked into, as will introducing aisles in supermarket aisles with no plastic packaging.

The 25-year plan also aims to fund new research for 'plastics innovations' and to aid developing nations deal with their plastic waste.

Since the 1950s, approximately 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic has been produced. Of this, just 9% is recycled, with an eye-opening 79% having been thrown away. The rest is incinerated – and, it is estimated by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish on the planet.

Aside from the finite landfill space, plastic is a blight on the very environment it pollutes, estimated to take anywhere up to 1,000 years for plastic to decompose in landfill.

Some preventative action is taking place nationally, small battles in the war on plastic with the 5p bag levy, the UK ban on microplastic beads in cosmetics, and polyethylene bag recycling at larger stores, like the Tesco at Sudden, for example.

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall even took to the screen in 2016 with his ‘war on waste’ revolution, campaigning for reduction in take-away coffee cups, which cannot be recycled due to their plastic lining, plus needless food and textile waste.

In December 2017, Rochdale Online asked Rochdale Borough Council and the supermarkets with the largest local branches – Tesco, Asda, Morrisons – what they could do to address the packaging waste problem and reduce the amount of plastic used.

At the time, Morrisons said: "We know that the reduction of plastic is important - we are already working to address how we use plastic in our packaging. It is a complicated process as it is an important part of keeping the food fresh and avoiding food waste."

Following Ms May’s comments, a Morrisons spokesman added: "We have already introduced a number of measures to reduce plastic usage – we are looking at others and we are completely open-minded about the government's proposals."

In December, Tesco outlined a number of measures they have taken such as sourcing packaging in a ‘sustainable way’ and making new packaging from old and using less virgin plastics.

It stated: “We are reducing the amount of PVC and polystyrene (PS) as a priority. We are pleased to report that these two plastics combined represent less than 2% of the packaging we use. We are committed to reducing this further. Indeed, on cooked meat we have an active project to replace the PVC base tray with an alternative. The PVC tray on cooked meats is recyclable (the UK guidance is that all plastic trays, pots and tubs is widely recyclable), however, we wish to replace the PVC with a more environmentally beneficial plastic. A material called r-PET is what we are looking to do, which means we will then be using old plastic packaging to make new packaging.

“Over the last 10 years, we have reduced our packaging by 28% for packaged goods and 38% for all products including loose. However, this can continue for only so long before we believe product quality, shelf life, or waste is incurred – so only so much can be done. That said, where we see opportunity we will reduce.”

They added: “We do support developing a cost-effective Deposit Return System (DRS) and are currently working with a number of partners to scope a project to explore how this can operate in practice and at scale. We view DRS as only one aspect of the holistic approach that is required to achieve the broader goals of reducing waste and increasing recycling in the UK.”

Tesco also utilises the funds raised from the 5p bag charge with their Bags of Help grant scheme where the money raised by the sale of carrier bags is used to fund thousands of local projects in communities across the UK.

However, despite these collective measures, the UK is far behind the efforts of other countries. At local level, the only plastic that can be recycled in Rochdale is plastic bottles without any lids: just a few miles away in neighbouring Whitworth, where the bins are collected by Rossendale Council, various other forms of plastic are collected that would be discarded as general waste in the Rochdale borough.

Whilst Modbury in Devon was the first town to become plastic bag-free in May 2007, other bans and taxes had already been in place for a significant period of time: the oldest existing bag tax in the world was introduced in 1994 in Denmark, and Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban the thin plastic bags in 2002.

A vast amount of plastic waste ends up in waterways and oceans, of which carrier bags are just one of many forms, alongside microplastics, tiny fragments (<5mm) of plastic particles, such as microbeads, which can be ingested by marine life.

The threat of microbeads has been somewhat recognised in the UK: they are set to be fully banned in ‘wash off’ products from July. The small round beads, designed to help with exfoliation, do not degrade and are too small to be filtered through treatment plants.

This only covers approximately one percent of marine plastics, one of the most serious emerging threats to oceanic life. Some forms of plastic are toxic, disrupting hormones, and as many as one in three fish caught in the Channel contains pieces of plastic, entering the food chain after they are often mistaken by fish for their usual food sources.

According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, the cumulative amount of plastic in the seas will rise tenfold by 2025 if nothing is done to dramatically reduce waste generation or manage it more effectively.

Currently, some 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastics are estimated to enter the oceans each year from land, predominantly due to the proliferation of single-use products and packaging, littering and poor waste management.

This figure could be also expected to rise, as in December 2017, China announced a ban on importing plastic waste from 2018. Since 2012, two-thirds of the UK’s total plastic has been exported to China and Hong Kong – over 2.7m tonnes of plastic waste.

Whilst the government’s acknowledgements and actions taken are small steps in the right direction, much more needs to be done – and fast.

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