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As 2017 ended and 2018 began we saw a tidal wave of plastic-focussed news, campaigns, hashtags, and policy updates. Plastic-pledges are being made left right and centre, and coming from all angles: big business, villages, a Welsh county, The Shetlands, and people of all ages and persuasions.
The ensuing debate around plastic use has highlighted the fact that there’s plenty still to be learnt and brought into the discussion. Clearly there’s a lot to be done to move the debate forward. But plastic is firmly on the agenda and change is being made.
At the moment, the GGA is working to learn more about what can be done to improve plastic use as part of our own #PointlessPlastics campaign; but we also wanted to highlight just how big this movement is, so here’s a quick round-up of recent developments. Looking at what has been said and done, promised and pledged, as poor use of plastics has become the ‘bête noire’ of 2018.
Amongst the UK Press the Guardian’s Bottling It campaign led the way last summer, but was so far ahead of the wave that they can’t easily claim credit for the changes that we are seeing today. Poor Guardian!
Right now we have the Daily Mail campaigning for a 20p plastic bottle deposit scheme, which it proudly announces has UN support. And The Independent is backing calls for a Latte Levy, to address problems associated with take-away coffee cups. The Indie also offers a more nuanced look at the systemic issues that make reducing our waste such a complex challenge.
Meanwhile, The Evening Standard’s “The Last Straw” campaign aims to “eradicate plastic straws from London’s streets”. So far the campaign has picked up pledges from a number of organisations, including The Barbican, and food chain Leon.
On a similar tip to the Evening Standard, “The Final Straw” campaign, spearheaded by Josie and Rob da Bank, founders of Bestival, aims to ‘purge plastic straws from the festival landscape’. They have pledged to start by making their own events – Bestival, Camp Bestival and Common People – plastic straw-free. The campaign will also extend the initiative to include all single-use plastics at festivals in subsequent years. I’m sure we may see Enviro-cup on the festival scene too!
Big businesses are clearly now well aware of the way the wind is blowing, and are taking it upon themselves to improve their plastics impact. Most recently Wagamama have pledged to ditch plastic straws in favour of biodegradable paper alternatives, which will be available on request as of April. The wider movement to replace plastic straws has been picked up by pub chain JD Wetherspoons, Randall & Aubin, All Bar One and restaurant chain D&D London, which owns Quaglino’s and Le Pont de la Tour. The Malmaison and Hotel du Vin chains have also announced that they will no longer serve customers plastic straws, in an effort to drive down their plastic waste.
The tea industry is reportedly scrambling to develop fully biodegradable, plastic free teabags, a move reportedly being lead by the Coop. Though, as reported here, it’s worth noting that some brands are already selling tea bags that do not contain polypropylene or any other plastic.
UK supermarkets have all been getting in on the action in one way or another. With a number of supermarkets pledging to scrap 5p plastic bags, though some argue that the funds generated from 5p bags are helping to deal with pollution.
The first UK chain with a significant plastic pledge was Iceland, which is now vowing to eliminate plastic on all their own-branded products in the next five years. And ASDA has set out a raft of pledges in Plastic Unwrapped, including plans to reduce the amount of plastic in its own-brand packaging by 10 per cent this year. Finally Waitrose has committed to stop using black plastic trays by the end of 2019, on top of its commitments to make all its packaging widely recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, and removing all packs of disposable drinking straws by the end of the year.
Even Ryanair has pledged to become “plastic free” in the next five years. A notable development given that Ryanair chief exec, Michael O’Leary, has famously floated the idea that environmentalists be shot, and denied climate change is driven by carbon emissions! This development possibly proves that pledging to take better care of the planet is now good for business, as well as good for our environment.
Finally, Evian has committed to 100% recycled plastic in all bottles by 2025. And Coca Cola has pledged to invest in developing 100% recyclable packaging, and aim to manufacture plastic containers with 50% recycled content by 2030. With that in mind they might want to speak to our friends at Delphis Eco, who have already developed 100% recycled plastic packaging for all of their plastic packaged products!
With all that going on “the plastic issue” has been driven high up on the UK political agenda. As well as policy announcements, we’ve seen more than 100 MPs pledge to reduce single-use plastic consumption within their local constituencies, as they call on supermarkets to address the plastic waste they generate.
On the policy front, the ban on plastic microbeads has come into force in the UK, in the same week that Theresa May’s government has set out its environment strategy. The new strategy included the extension of the plastic bags charge to include small shops in England, and a pledge to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042. A bit of a weak pledge – who defines ‘avoidable’, and who is going to drive investment in the technology to make plastic waste ‘avoidable’?
The Government’s plan has been widely criticised by those arguing that the 2042 target lacks urgency, and that the entire strategy does not match the scale of the crisis. Furthermore, and in light of Brexit, the UK plan has been unfavourably compared with the EU’s “European strategy for plastics in a circular economy”. With critics arguing that not only is the UK approach unambitious, but is also not backed up by sufficient legislation to drive meaningful change.
Practice what you preach?
As if to add to the woes of UK Parliamentarians, Surfers Against Sewage are urging MPs to make parliament plastic-free. The move follows a series of freedom of information requests which show that hundreds of thousands of items of plastic cutlery, more than a million takeaway coffee cups and nearly 22,000 plastic straws were used last year in the Commons and Lords.
It certainly looks like the UK Government is going to need a far stronger leadership position if it is to legitimately claim to be tackling plastic, waste and pollution. With 25 jobs at the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) set to go due to funding issues, following successive cuts to government funding. Whilst the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is somehow getting through over half a million disposable cups each year. It’s time for a more joined up and coherent approach, backed with investment and smart legislation.
Clearly tackling how we use our resources and manage pollution is an extremely complex challenge, and one that will require a great deal of work. Which is why our very own #PointlessPlastics campaign is working with industry to identify solutions to our problems and create change across the whole supply chain, from manufacturer to consumer. (Soon we will be publishing the #PointlessPlastics plan of action… Stay tuned for that!)
The current sea-change around plastic use is inspiring and we hope that the momentum driving the movement can be maintained and brought to bear on other thorny issues; and we trust the the GGA community will be at the forefront of change: helping find new and better ways to operate, and leading the march towards a sustainable future.
The campaign was launched in November 2017, ahead of Award entries opening for their 2018 awards programme. There are several categories focusing on environmental impact, including for eco-products, behaviour change and sustainable supply chain. Entries are now closed, but you can already register your interest for 2019 by emailing karen@GlobalGoodAwards.co.uk
Join us at the 2018 GGA Ceremony: To celebrate excellence in social impact and sustainability (and sample our vegan wines!)
You don’t have to be an entrant to come along to the GGA ceremony! If you’re involved in social impact or sustainability, the GGA is the place to be! From our ‘eco-tie’ dress code, to our completely vegan menu, we aim to set the standard for sustainable events, and we want to share our learnings with you. Find out more about the 2018 ceremony, here>>