Article 10 for the Dawlish Gazette by Vanessa Ryley, writing for Dawlish Against Plastic 2nd September 2020

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

On 1st Sept, the BBC aired a follow-up episode to the series, ‘War on Plastic’. Much of the programme focussed on a review of the previous series and small steps forward made by large corporations such as supermarkets and the government. I have to say I was not very happy with the meagre responses. It seems that every small step forward in the reduction of single use plastics is only possible due to naming and shaming of companies by elements of the media and environmental pressure groups. It remains a sad fact that almost 50% of the plastic produced is for single use items.

One of the few possibly significant steps in the right direction is that due to the huge rise in the numbers of home deliveries, Tesco has had a rethink and come up with a new policy to reduce plastic waste. Initially 150 products have been selected to be delivered using reusable containers made from various materials. The idea is that when the product has been consumed, the customer returns the container which is then cleaned and re-used.

Hopefully, this will be a popular move and will lead to a demand for other supermarkets to do the same.

Unfortunately, retailers only represent the tip of the plastic iceberg. The ultimate ‘villains of the piece’ are the enormously powerful and hugely influential oil companies. The plastic supply chain almost always starts at the wellhead, oil rig, or coal mine. Virtually all (over 99%) plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. Contrary to what these corporations would have us believe, very little plastic is effectively recycled because recycling is subject to market prices and recycled material is rarely cost competitive. The collection of materials, the cost of infrastructure and running recycling programmes and the lack of incentive for companies to use recycled content all contribute to the cost.

So why are local councils, and ultimately us as council taxpayers, the ones who are picking up the tab for plastic waste that has been forced on us simply because plastic is so cheap to produce from fossil fuels? Indeed, by paying all these disposal costs we make plastic even cheaper to produce!

Far from taking responsibility for what they produce, the oil companies have ensured over the years, that consumers take the blame and pay the price. They have long pedalled the myth that if we can all do the ‘right thing’ the plastic problem will disappear. And so far, they have got away with it.

Cheap shale gas in the United States resulting from fracking is fuelling massive new investments in plastics so while we as consumers are looking for ways to reduce plastic consumption the actual production of plastic items is set to rise significantly. By 2025 production capacity is expected to increase by up to 36%. If this happens it will totally undermine any efforts to reduce plastic consumption.

Increasingly states and countries are exploring extended producer responsibility laws designed to redirect some of the costs back to producers to encourage them to re-evaluate their delivery models.

So, what is our government doing? The recent announcement that the price of plastic bags is to go up to 10p in April and all retailers will be expected to make the charge, sort of says it all. They are taking baby steps when they need to take giant strides.

Single-use, ‘disposable’ face masks contain polypropylene, a type on non-recyclable plastic, and yet are still widely worn by members of the public. Our advice, even, or especially, during the pandemic is to avoid single use plastics, re-use plastic items wherever possible, dispose of all plastics responsibly and recycle where possible. Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

(Written with reference to materials supplied by the Break Free From Plastic movement.)