Over the last 20 years, we have made huge strides on increasing recycling and making people more aware of the importance of conserving resources and reducing our impact on the planet. We are all used to separating our rubbish and ensuring recyclables are in our blue bin, it has just become a natural part of life at home. Whilst many of the plastics we use are being recycled, it has become clear that single use plastics are having a drastic effect on our environment – clogging up our oceans, littering the countryside and causing death and injury to animals.
The need to reduce the levels of plastic has been well publicised and many people have become very conscious about reducing their personal use of plastic. Sir David Attenborough highlighted the damage that plastic causes to the environment and wildlife in the BBC documentary Blue Planet 2.
The food industry has become addicted to single use plastics, and as consumers it is hard for us to get away from them. From coffee cups to cutlery, food cartons to straws, we have thousands of items that are ‘used’ for a few minutes before being discarded and not recycled. A recent study established that more than 8 million tonnes of plastics leaking into our oceans and billions of people across the world are drinking water contaminated by plastics.
Activists have even taken to shredding food items of their superfluous plastic items and leaving them at supermarkets in order to make this point.
As an MP I am all too aware that we legislators must play our part in addressing the plastics problem which is having such appalling consequences for our marine life.
I questioned the Environment Minister in Parliament on this subject last year, at the instigation of constituents and local environmental groups.
Voters play an important role in keeping this in the minds of Politicians with their campaigning. A Cornish schoolboy and his Father came to Parliament with all the plastics collected from a single square metre of his local beach, which won widespread attention in Parliament.
We have already seen the positive effect of the 5p charges for plastic carrier bags at supermarkets, which shows the measures politicians can take to encourage behaviour change. Alongside taxation there is a call for a ban on single use plastic straws, and for targets on supermarkets to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging. Already some supermarkets are acting, for example Iceland recently committed to eliminating the use of plastic packaging for all their own brand products.
But each of us as consumers can make a difference. It is estimated that around 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups end up in landfill each year, by using reusable cups we could eradicate this blight. In the same way that taking our own carrier bags to the supermarket has become a habit, using reusable cups could quickly become the norm. As consumers, we can help force supermarkets to change their practices by buying loose fruit and veg instead of pre-packaged, not buying products that use excessive or needless packaging and going to shops that are making positive steps.
I recently visited Newbold milkman, Stuart Needham, to discuss the potential benefits to the environment of returning to doorstep deliveries. Switching from plastic to glass milk bottles, is one significant way to help. It is these small everyday changes that collectively make a huge difference.
We all want to protect the environment and ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a world that is sustainable, pollution-free and beautiful. By making big changes to business and legislation, and small changes to our personal lives, we can help deliver on this vision.