Prioritising Plastic – What the next government can do

2019 has been a year of many discussions surrounding sustainability. The government has committed to hitting Net Zero emissions by 2050 which has been welcomed by many. However, numerous reviews into how we achieve this have been announced with few updates on progression and many bills that would benefit the environment have stalled in Parliament due to Brexit. There is clearly the appetite to prioritise sustainability, however the government is yet to follow up with corresponding actions.

The UK has made it clear it has strong intentions to be a global environmental leader, however, for this to be achieved we need action. This needs to include ending the UK practice of sweeping our plastic rubbish problem under other countries’ carpets.

We know time has run out for sending our plastic waste to other parts of the globe: China has banned imports of plastic waste and Malaysia has said it will send back contaminated containers. This waste often ends up as mountains on far-away beaches, washed into the oceans and poisoning the food we eat.  We should not need to be shamed into showing global leadership and dealing with our own mess. 

Our Plastics Packaging Plan, launched in February this year, calls for a bold national policy framework to reduce ocean plastic overseas and boost domestic infrastructure investment, innovation and green jobs.

This report was launched at a time where public concerns were at a high due to ongoing discussions around the UK’s separation from the European Union and the regulations attached to this but nine months on, the sentiment remains the same. Achieving this ambition will require significant investment in domestic recycling and will require all parties to commit to prioritising sustainability in their upcoming manifestos.

The blueprint set out in the report would see the newly-elected government setting a clear date for the end of exports (2030 latest) to drive investment in recycling infrastructure; the establishment of a taskforce within the Environment Agency to oversee the plan; and the publication of an approved list of packaging materials to end recycling confusion for households and make things easy for business. 

The UK is already a world leader in material and recycling technology and we need now to move from dumping our plastics on other countries to exporting home-tried and tested solutions.