We all know plastic waste has become a huge issue since the nation bore witness to its impact in our oceans, in the popular BBC programme, Blue Planet.
Blue Planet is set to return to television screens this March in a live format and aims to revisit the habitats and animals seen in the 2017 series – but the question is, will anything have changed?
No doubt many of us know we are actively contributing to plastic waste and could do more to change our ways.
However, many think the government has a part to play and needs to now step in.
Whilst MP debates on the issue of plastic have been on the rise will any of them actually make a difference?
The Governments History of Tackling Plastic Waste
Looking back, it’s undeniable that the government’s decision to introduce a 5p levy charge on plastic bags in major supermarkets, has been a huge success, with it reducing the number of bags issued by 86%.
The levy came into place in 2015 and was the first well publicized example of the government taking a stand.
2018 saw the Government introduce a ban on the manufacture of products containing microbeads.
A ban on the sale of products containing microbeads is expected to follow later in the year.
Theresa May herself announced in April of 2018 that the government would pledge £60m towards tackling plastic waste.
£25m of the fund is to be used to help investigate the issue of plastic waste from a scientific, economic and social perspective.
£20 million of the pledged funs will go towards actively combatting plastic waste and other pollution generated by manufacturing in developing countries and prevent it entering the oceans.
The remaining £16.4m will see it tackle the U. K’s direct plastic waste problem by seeking to improve waste management at a national and city level to stop plastics getting into rivers, lakes and oceans in the first place.
The government also pledged to match public donations to tackle plastic waste via the UK Aid Match.
These are all examples of active ways the government is combatting plastic waste but diving deeper into the issue, a lot of great ideas have been thrown around and debated, but have yet to be acted upon.
These include a proposed ban on all single use plastic discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in April 2018 which would see plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic stemmed cotton buds banned.
Many establishments have moved away from plastic straws and stirrers but the government wants to give the industry sufficient time to adapt.
Theresa May also introduced a 25-year environment plan policy which hopes to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
A drinks container deposit scheme is also on the agenda which could see a reward and return scheme with the government confirming it will introduce the scheme.
Whilst this scheme is still yet to be put into practice and rolled out across the country, a trial by supermarket Iceland, in which customers received 10p in the form of a voucher for each bottle they recycled was a huge success.
The trial saw more than 311,500 bottles retuned and customers earning £30,000 in total.
Unfortunately, Brexit is a huge issue at the forefront of the governments problems, which could be a real shame considering 2018 was seen as the year that saw a ‘war on plastic waste’.
Following on from the outcry after Blue Planet in 2017 and the progress made in 2018 it would be a huge shame to see momentum lost in the wake of Brexit.
Why is all of this so important?
The ban on microbeads was so prevalent due to the huge impact such a tiny thing can make to our oceans.
This meant face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and shower gels which contained microbeads could no longer be sold or manufactured.
Due to how miniscule the beads are, taking a shower using a product containing microbeads is thought to send 100,000 beads into the ocean.
Wildlife also find themselves ingesting them and due to the beads being able to absorb toxins, they often become seriously ill and even die, transferring the beads up the food chain.
They are also almost impossible to remove from water as they aren’t captured by most wastewater treatment systems and so prevention is better than a cure.
Studies seen in Science in 2015 estimates a staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic is released into the ocean each year.
A ban on single use plastics would see consumers unable to purchase items that harm the environment in the first place and put more pressure on manufactures to stop making them.
Plastics Europe however claims that bans are not the solution and instead we need to focus on better waste management and lack of awareness.
The 2025 rules would also see drinks bottled recycled at a rate of 90% with the estimated EU recycling rate at 57% currently.
The survey below filled out by over 50 people garnered interesting results seen below.
It found around half of people were aware of the plastic waste they produce whilst over 75% have actively worked to reduce their plastic waste.
A staggering 100% of people who took part in the survey found that it was time for the government to step in whilst over 90% thought that the current conservative government was not doing enough.
After reading the figures that only 9% of the world’s plastic is actually recycled many people said they felt disgusted, shocked and above all else angry.
Bans on single use plastics, more recycling plants and supermarket changes were cited as the main ways to combat waste.
What MP debates have taken place?
In November 2018 MP’s debated on a petition urging government to make it law for supermarkets to offer no packaging options or at least eco-friendly packaging for each item of fresh fruit and vegetables they sell.
The petition they debated gathered 123,000 signatures.
December saw members of the Lords debate the threat of plastic to the environment and a case for improved recycling.
May 2018 saw a debate held on plastic bottles and coffee cups in which Mary Creagh, member of the environmental audit committee said: “We are in the middle of a global pandemic.
“Plastic is everywhere, from the top of Mount Everest to the depths of the ocean to the north pole.
“Plastic has been found in every species of animal in the arctic, from plankton to polar bears.”
Creagh also accused the government of leaving the issue to other countries to sort out after, in 2015 the UK joined the United Nations Global goals for sustainable development.
A number of MP’s from various parties also called for a ban on the export of plastic waste over concerns we were handing our waste over to poorer counties to clean up.
These MP’s tabled an early motion to highlight concerns raised by the national audit office that millions of tonnes of plastic sent aboard for recycling may in fact be, being dumped in landfill sites.
The motion was sponsored by Green party MP Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, Labour MPs Geraint Davies and Mike Hill, Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake, and Kelvin Hopkins, an independent MP.
What do these debates achieve?
MP debates serve to raise the profile of a campaign and can contribute to decision making in government and parliament.
Unfortunately, these debates cannot change the law or result in a vote to implement the request of the petition.
Laws can only be made or changed through parliamentary legislative processes, which have various debates and considerations before a draft is drawn in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
With this in mind debates can be a sticky subject for MP’s and some see it as a waste if breath.
That’s not to say these debates mean nothing – the fact MP’s recognise it now as a big issue that’s at the forefront is huge.
Years ago, the environment didn’t matter if it was mentioned in a manifesto and to some it still doesn’t but for many they feel it cannot be ignored.
If anything, these debates serve to bring to the governments attention that both MP’s and the general public do care about these issues and want to see change happen.
Whether the government takes up these concerns and acts on them is another question entirely.
Trainee Journalist at Teesside University