Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Rubbish from A to Z - P
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Rubbish from A to Z
In this series of blogs, we’re going to look at rubbish. From the good to the bad and downright ugly, we’ll be looking at everything you ever wanted to know, from A right down to Z.
P is for plastic pollution- what is the UK government doing about it?
We can’t really talk about rubbish without talking about plastic. Governments, business, and individuals all over the world are waking up to the fact that plastic pollution is a growing problem that’s not going to go away, and it needs to be dealt with before the damage it’s causing reaches the point of no return.
But amid all the articles and headlines that basically say our planet is doomed, there are plenty of headlines to be happy about. Especially in the UK, where the government has started to take real and meaningful action on the problem of plastic.
Back in 2018, it announced its 25-year plan to improve the environment within a generation, and the elimination of single-use plastic was very high on the agenda.
So what has the UK government done so far?
It’s banned microbeads
The government banned microbeads in 2017. Just in case you don’t know what they are, they are those tiny little pieces of plastic that you can find in products like face washes, body scrubs, and toothpaste. These pesky bits of plastic can end up in our oceans causing harm to wildlife and entering the food chain.
If you’re buying products from abroad or you’re not sure whether something contains microbeads, look out for the words polyethylene, polypropylene and polymethylmethacrylate; these all indicate plastic. You might also see the abbreviations PET, PTFE, and PMMA.
Johnson and Johnson and Neutrogena phased out microbeads by the end of 2017, as did Proctor and Gamble.
It’s urging supermarkets to set up plastic-free aisles
This initiative was part of the government’s 25-year plan, and it involves supermarkets setting up aisles where all of the produce is loose so plastic packaging is eliminated, and customers are given the opportunity to do the right thing.
Morrisons became the first UK supermarket to introduce plastic-free fruit and veg aisles last summer. Customers can bag their produce in recyclable paper bags. The plastic-free aisles were rolled out to 60 stores and estimates are that the initiative saves around 156 tonnes of plastic per year. Customers still have the option of buying packaged fruit and veg.
It has consulted on rolling out the 5p carrier bag charge to all retailers
Most of us are used to paying the 5p charge for carrier bags at the supermarket if we’ve forgotten our reusable bags, but what about at the corner shop? The government has consulted on making smaller retailers in England like corner shops charge 5p for carrier bags to bring them in line with other countries in the UK.
The introduction of the 5p charge saw a huge 90% reduction in the use of plastic bags which amounts to a staggering 9 billion carrier bags, and what’s even better is that £66 million has been raised for good causes from the proceeds.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s have got rid of 5p bags altogether, and customers now only have the option of buying a 10p bag for life.
It’s banning cotton buds, plastic straws, and drinks stirrers
Following a consultation, a ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and cotton buds will come into effect in April this year. There was huge public support for the proposed bans; with over 80% of people supporting a ban on plastic straws, 90% of people supporting a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% of people supporting a cotton bud ban.
Straws will still be available to people who need them for medical reasons, and catering establishments won’t be able to display them or give them out, but will be able to provide them on request.
The move comes after figures showed that in the UK, we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds, and around 10% of all cotton buds used are flushed down the loo and end up on our beaches and in our oceans.
It’s considering introducing a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles
We use 13 billion plastic bottles in the UK every year, and over half of these end up in landfill or in our oceans. Plastic bottles and other plastic packaging are some of the most commonly littered items that blight our environment. So to tackle the problem, the government has consulted on the introduction of a deposit return scheme, where customers would get 5p back for every bottle they return to a retailer for recycling.
In addition to a deposit return scheme, the government has been looking at the possibility of installing more water fountains across the UK, so that people can fill up their reusable bottles on the go and won’t have to rely on buying bottled water.
It’s debating introducing a tax on disposable coffee cups
You’ve probably seen the headlines over the last few years about the ‘latte levy’ a 25p charge that the government is considering imposing on disposable coffee cups. Figures show that around 5 billion disposable coffee cups are discarded as litter each year, and they are notoriously hard to recycle because they are made from mixed materials. It’s estimated that introducing the charge could reduce disposable coffee cup usage by 30% and raise almost £500 million.
Some of the big coffee chains have introduced incentives for people who use reusable cups when they come into the store. Pret a Manger offers a generous 50p discount on hot drinks, and you can save 25p at Costa, and 25p at Starbucks.
Making packaging producers take more responsibility
It’s all well and good to tell us to buy less plastic, but surely if the tide of plastic pollution is ever going to be stemmed, it’s got to start at the source with the producers. The government’s 25-year environmental plan includes plans to urge companies to do more to reduce the impact of their products on the environment, make them easier to recycle, and foot more of the bill for recycling costs.
Most of the burden currently falls on taxpayers to fund plastic packaging recycling, but if the government pushes through its plans, producers will have to make packaging easier to recycle and pay a charge on packaging that is difficult to recycle.
Educating more young people about the environment
Children are the future, so it makes sense to get them into good habits at an early age and teach them about the importance of looking after the planet as early as possible.
The government’s 25-year plan includes provision of £10 million in funding for school visits to raise awareness about the environment and to teach them more about the world they live in and why they need to protect it.
It’s funding research into alternatives to plastic
The government has also made £7 billion available for the research and development of alternatives to plastic. We have become so reliant on plastics in our everyday life that banning them completely might just prove too difficult. What might work though, is if viable alternatives came onto the market.
It’s too early to say whether we’ll manage to stem the flow of plastic pollution in time, but we have to try everything in our power before it’s too late.