Why the UK Plastics Pact doesn't go far enough

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More than 40 companies including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Tesco have pledged to eliminate single-use packaging items and to ensure 100 per cent of their plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable. But NATALIE BENNETT, former Green Party leader, argues this voluntary pact doesn't go far enough - a full scale ban is needed

There’s a crucial point to make about the announcement - 'recyclable' doesn’t mean an object is going to be recycled.

A group of supermarkets and other stores announced with much fanfare that within the next seven years they are planning to cut out non-recyclable plastic packaging.

This is good news – although chiefly for the way it demonstrates that public concern about plastic waste - well stirred by Blue Planet II - is forcing reaction from the polluters.

But there’s a crucial point to make about the announcement: 'recyclable' doesn’t mean an object is going to be recycled.

Drowning in recyclables

Yes, it is good if we stop producing the black plastic trays and film that can only end up in landfill or wasteful, polluting incineration. But our plastics recycling facilities are already groaning with over-supply of recyclables from the impact of the Chinese decision to stop importing most plastic waste for recycling there.

That’s when only about a third of the 3.7 million tonnes of the single-use plastic waste we produce in Britain each year is recycled. At the consumer end, households are struggling with a hugely variety of different schemes with different rules: if you move house there’s a good chance you’ll have to learn a new system.

How much better if an unnecessary item isn’t produced at all. That more than 40 percent of the plastic produced goes into single-use packaging is shocking, even before you consider the fact that the world total is more than 300 million tonnes each year.

As Julia Hartley-Brewer said to me last week on Talk Radio: we used to do without all these plastics – it surely can’t be that hard to find alternative ways of doing things.

Choked planet

Some companies are already doing much more than the Plastic Pact. Morrisons announced that it would be trialling stores in which no fruit or vegetables were sold in plastic packaging and allowing consumers to bring their own container for meat and fish – hopefully a step towards ending their use in any stores.

The café chain Boston Tea Party said it would be ending the use of all disposable cups in its stores. Sky has said it will remove all single-use plastics from its products and supply chain by 2020.

We surely can’t be too far from an innovative community following Freiburg in Germany in introducing a scheme where an entire town heads towards ending the use of disposable cups.

We are – finally – recognising that there is no such thing as throwing something 'away' on our poor choked planet.

Most of the eight-billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s is still in existence - in our drinking water, our soils, our oceans, our animals and our air. Even in our beer. And we can’t afford to throw out into this increasingly toxic world.

Pace of change

Government announcements about plans to ban plastic straws, cotton bud sticks and stirrers have already been well-received. These are patently obviously unnecessary items.

But it is well behind the pace of change. Theresa May’s announcement of a ban on unnecessary single-use plastic by 2042 looked laughable at the time: who knows how long she’ll be prime minister - but certainly not for that kind of timeframe.

But with some companies leaping far ahead of the government, it’s obvious it needs to move much faster – it can be done, it should be mandated to be done.

The public will for action is clear – it needs to be matched with government action. The Green Party is calling for a ban on all unnecessary single-use plastic – which means nearly all of it on our high streets. That’s the Plastic Pact we need.

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Natalie Bennett is former Green Party leader.

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