Our use of plastics has grown exponentially over the last few decades, and thanks to scientists and activists we are more aware than ever about the impact of plastic pollution on human health, wildlife and the natural environment. Reducing the production and consumption of plastics is now firmly on the national agenda, and here in Oxford we can be proud of local initiatives that are leading the way.
Last week was Oxford Green Week, which saw a wide range of pop-up events across the city. On Sunday, the ‘Oxfordshire Reuses’ festival, which I attended, was an opportunity for people to donate or swap unwanted clothes and household items, and children were able to learn how to ‘upcycle’ old things and give them a new lease of life! I also attended Oxford Hub’s Plastic Waste Proaction Café, a discussion event which brought together researchers, local businesses, campaigners and consumers to explore current obstacles to plastic waste reduction and come up with solutions.
Part of the problem is that plastic is everywhere, in clothing, make-up, even in teabags, and the alternatives are not always clear. Oxford Friends of the Earth have some good ideas to phase out all but the most essential uses of plastics, including practical tips on how reduce everyday plastic around the home, from food storage to cleaning.
Here in Oxford we have a water refill scheme – Refill Oxford – offering a network of water refill points across the city. They recently recruited their 175th station, making it easier for people to switch from disposable bottles to reusable flasks. We also now have supermarkets taking steps to reduce plastic waste, Waitrose is trialling bag-free purchases in its Oxford store. We need others to follow suit.
Of course, local effort needs to be backed up by comprehensive Government action. In the 2018 Budget, the Chancellor announced plans to introduce, from 2022, a tax on plastic packaging that contains less than 30 per cent recycled plastic.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, has rightly criticised this measure for not going any way near far enough to address the pressing problem of plastic pollution when ‘the urgency and seriousness of the situation has never been clearer’. Delaying the implementation by four years means that 700,000 tonnes of additional plastic waste will be thrown away before the tax comes into force.
It is also disappointing that the Government’s announcement last month on plastics falls short of EU proposals. Despite the headlines, it appears that plastic drinks stirrers are the only item that will be totally banned.
Instead we need a properly comprehensive and robust strategy to reduce waste. This should include improving the waste and recycling infrastructure, introducing a plastic bottle return scheme, and stopping the export of recycling and waste plastics to countries where they currently end up in a landfill or polluting our oceans. I support these measures, and will keep pressing the Government to go further and faster. The plastic pollution crisis cannot wait.