The latest statistics on waste management and re-cycling have just been published, so most of the media have been carrying stories about local performance. Are we re-cycling more or sending less to landfill than we did last year? How does our community compare to others?
In truth, we’ve done a lot, but there’s a lot more to do. We can see that plastic litter and waste plagues local neighbourhoods, as well as some of our finest countryside, and is particularly damaging to our marine ecosystems.
The amount of litter on British beaches last year was at its highest level in twenty years. Despite all the messages to dispose of waste safely and securely, the number of plastic bags littering the coastline has actually increased by more than 20% since 1996.
Lightweight plastic bags are the worst of all. They tend to shred and get entangled in recycling and re-processing equipment, contaminating and reducing the value of recyclable materials, like paper and cardboard. Reducing the use of plastic bags has to be part of a coherent waste management strategy with a focus on preventing plastic from entering the waste stream in the first place.
Last month, the European Commission adopted a proposal that requires Member States to reduce their use of lightweight plastic carrier bags. It’s up to each country to choose the measures they find most appropriate, including charges, national reduction targets or a ban under certain conditions.
However, this government’s plastic bags policy is an unscientific mess. It seems determined to ignore the initiatives that have worked elsewhere. In Wales, the introduction of a charge for all single-use bags in 2010 has had a dramatic impact. Within three years, there had already been a near 80% cut in the number of plastic bags being used.
For some reason, this government is trying to use the future promise of innovation to justify a rushed and flawed policy proposal to allow an exemption for biodegradable bags if a charging scheme is introduced. It makes no sense.
As soon as possible, we should introduce a simple universal plastic bag charge that will dramatically cut plastic waste and litter.