Article 9 for the Dawlish Gazette by Vanessa Ryley, writing for Dawlish Against Plastic 22nd July 2020

Covid-19 does not know the difference between

reusable and single use, but the environment does

Recent events during the Covid 19 pandemic have left me feeling saddened in many ways. People have lost so much, whether its losing loved ones or their livelihoods or even keeping a job but being asked to live on a reduced income. Everyone has suffered to a greater or lesser degree.

However, when I see news footage of litter on beaches, in the countryside and in towns I begin to despair. It seems that some people have ignored the sorry state of our suffering environment and the drive to reuse, refill, repurpose and recycle in their haste to try to recapture some of their previous freedoms.

Our Dawlish beaches are not immune to this behaviour and Teignbridge employees are regularly scouring the beaches for litter at this time of year.

While littering is anti-social and unsightly, the really worrying aspect is the environmental impact that begins to happen when the sea or other waterway claims these carelessly left items. When cleaning our local beaches, I find many items that have clearly been in the sea for a long time. The range is astonishing; from degraded plastic cups, bags, drink bottles and cans to fishing line, rope and rags and many other items. The same is true of our rivers. On 21st July, the BBC reported that the river Thames is severely polluted with plastic. It has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics in the world and this is affecting marine life.

The fact is that plastics gradually degrade into smaller pieces of plastic which do not magically disappear but remain in the water to be ingested by fish and other water creatures resulting in plastic entering our own food supply chains. Yes, we have all been eating plastic particles for some time. We also breathe in micro-plastics from the atmosphere.

Another worrying trend is that businesses and individuals have taken steps to buy an immense amount of single use items. This ranges from take away cups and boxes to personal protective equipment such as face masks and hairdressers’ gowns.

While it is perfectly understandable that most of us want to behave in a way that keeps ourselves and others safe, in many circumstances this does not mean that single use items are required, especially plastic ones. Reusable cups, bottles and boxes that are thoroughly washed can be safely refilled and if these are put on to a small tray by the customer, the vendor does not even have to touch them. Hairdressers’ fabric gowns can be changed for each customer and washed in the same way as towels. Government guidance does not encourage single use items but insists that thorough cleaning is properly and regularly carried out. It encourages the use of washable cloth face coverings in the general population.

In addition to established environmental groups, more than 200 top UK firms and investors are calling on the government to deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises the environment. The Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, is holding a series of economic ‘recovery roundtables’, on which the British Chamber of Commerce is represented. He said, “This will undoubtedly lead to a cleaner, greener, more resilient economy which will create new jobs”

What should recovery look like? In a recent poll, only 6% wanted a full return to normal. If we are willing to learn lessons from the current crisis, we should take this unique opportunity to reflect on our lifestyles and demand a better, more sustainable future for our children.

My sincere hope is that as we adjust to this strange new normal, the environmental problems that have been demonstrated so clearly in recent times will begin to be effectively dealt with by all governments around the world. They have ‘talked the talk’, now it is time to ‘walk the walk’.