This article was originally published on Green World.
Stood alongside colleagues from Greenpeace and 38 Degrees on the steps of 10 Downing Street, I held onto the giant cardboard cutlery that held our campaign City to Sea slogan: #CutTheCutlery. Our ask was simple, for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to ban the most polluting single-use items, like plastic cutlery – just like they have done in every other country in Europe.
We were there to hand in our petition – which received over 118,000 signatures – to mark the end of the Defra consultation. We had coordinated over 50,000 people to respond to the consultation response. At one point over the Christmas period, we got a slightly panicked phone call from Defra saying they weren’t used to so many responses. So, we summarised it all for them and the findings were clear.
Image credit: City to Sea, Greenpeace
Most respondents backed a ban on all the items being considered – such as cutlery, plates and polystyrene food containers – with support at 96 per cent or above across the board. Crucially, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said the ban should kick in sooner than the Government’s April 2023 start date, with 35 per cent agreeing with the proposed date. Just 2 per cent said it should be later.
Importantly, 61 per cent also said that bio-based, compostable and biodegradable plastics should also be banned – something that the campaigners have dubbed ‘critical’ for tackling plastic pollution. The wide-scale use of material substitutes such as bioplastics should be regarded with caution. Bioplastics can be harmful to the environment and won’t shift people or companies away from a culture of throwaway packaging.
This all seems like a long time ago now. Boris Johnson was still Prime Minister. And I assumed that when the consultation was closed Defra would work through the data, publish a summary and then get to work on their stated timeline for delivery (something which we already said was too slow). Instead, we’ve had a year of inaction – literally nothing.
I can’t stress this next point enough. The overlapping plastic and climate crises demand action, urgently. Globally, between 8 – 12 m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every year and this is likely rising as plastic production from the biggest polluters also keeps on rising. Plastic production has continued to spiral widely out of control (as have the number of Defra ministers supposedly responsible for this!) and we simply can’t wait any longer to introduce these hugely uncontroversial basic first steps.
England now stands as the only country in Europe without legislation in place to ban polluting single-use plastics such as plastic plates, cutlery and expanded and extruded polystyrene cups and food containers. As I’ve said before, this lack of action is a ‘dereliction of Brexit promises’ and also a dereliction of duty to our natural world.
In the meantime, Scotland has introduced a law banning these items and Wales has published its draft legislation to do the same.
This stands in contrast to the origins of these measures. If we think back to the heady days of our membership in the European Union we will see how our political representatives played a key role in agreeing on the EU Sigle-Use Plastics Directive. And for a short time, it looked like the UK was making a concerted effort to be keeping up with these standards. In October 2020 the UK banned some of the same items like plastic straws.
But alas, that was the last significant shift in this policy space directly looking to reduce the amount of plastic we produce and consume (why all the noise around recycling is a red herring is another article for another day). And that’s why we have once again gone to the media to demand action. And it is why we also need you to join us in our calls.
If you’ve not already done so, contact your MP asking them the very simple question: “Why has this government not banned polluting plastics like plastic cutlery when; 1) it was promised over a year ago and 2) every other country across Europe including Scotland and Wales have managed to do it.”
We were promised a Green Brexit. Instead, we’re spending years chasing Defra to implement the very basic environmental standards that have been in place across Europe now for years. Their foot-dragging approach to tackling plastic pollution stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric of being ‘world leaders’ in tackling plastic pollution. It’s time for us to play catch up with our nearest neighbours and then, and only then, can the conversation move to the wider question of how to tackle plastic pollution in its entirety (you can read some of my thoughts on that in the article I wrote for Green World earlier this year).
How you can help the unaccompanied child refugees in Calais
On our doorstep, just two dozen miles from the British coast, is a refugee camp that is being demolished leaving people in the most desperate conditions. There are hundreds of children in these camps, many of whom have a legal right to be in the UK. Due to feet dragging, legal technicalities and lack of political will, their temporary shelters are being demolished and they are being left exposed having to fight not just for their rights, but their very survival.
In the next week or two this camp will be fully demolished. Unless our government acts, unless we act, many of these accompanied children will more than likely just go missing and disappear. This happened before, it is likely to happen again. The thought of the exploitation they will likely face should this happen should be enough to inspire us all into action.
Last week I went with the MEP, Molly Scott Cato, who I work with and visited the camp and met with some of the refugees and volunteers. What I saw was the end result of an uncaring and uninterested government. It was simply awful. A policy to do nothing left vulnerable people with nothing. I saw no government representation, no officials offering support, only volunteers where government agencies should have been.
It is worth noting, that the refugee camp in Calais is not, and never was, actually a refugee camp but just a makeshift camp with refugees in. This distinction is important. The former implies order and support and the latter implies disorder and little sufficient support.
Our government’s limited response to this is in the last few days is shameful. At the last minute they generously offer to accept a fraction of the children they are obliged to support. Too little too late. For too long they have been focusing on building a hugely expensive “security wall”. Perhaps a wall fits better with this governments fortress Britain mentality, but does little to support the children living in the camp. This whole time, rather than resorting too counterproductive Trump-esque style tactics, the British Government could have been registering the children identified to them by NGOs in the camps, to stop them risking their lives trying to get to the UK illegally.
We now face a ticking clock while the camp is demolished. To stop children disappearing, the UK government must step up and process all children with a legal right to be here. This is either through the Dublin III Regulation which entitles them to be reunited with family members living in the UK or under the Alf Dubs amendment which is supposed to bring the most vulnerable unaccompanied children in Europe to safety in the UK.
There are of course children there who don’t have a legal right to be in the UK and for some it may not be in their best interests to come here anyway. For those the UK government needs to be pushing the French authorities to do more in providing reception facilities to these children so they can go through the appropriate asylum process in France.
Whilst in the camp I heard reports of children being turned away by French authorities when they tried to register to claim asylum. Worse still, I also heard numerous reports of excessive use of violence from the French police. Volunteers talked to me about rubber bullets and tear gas being fired directly into groups leaving some minors with serious injuries.
History will judge our own and the French government’s actions and inaction poorly.
This government behaviour has, to some extent, been mitigated against by an army of volunteers that should be highly commended. Until government steps up to its legal and moral reasonability the goodwill of you, I and volunteers is all some have at the moment. If you have not already I urge you to write to your local MP urging government to act urgently. This cannot wait. There is a sample letter here but more powerfully, you can explain why this is important to you in your own words. Secondly, if you can afford to, please send phone credit to the refugees in the camps. This is crucial all the time but even more so during the up-coming demolition. Lastly, if you have time, volunteer either in the UK or the camps yourself.
This is a moral crisis. Primarily a crisis of government but one that touches on each of us. As Dr Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
I doubt many in government have read Dr Seuss. But you have, so please act.
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Tagged as Calais, How can I help, Refugees, The Jungle, unaccompanied children