Tag Archives: City to Sea

The plastics crisis: a fork in the road moment?

This article was originally published on Greenworld.

Steve Hynd, Green Councillor and Policy Manager at City to Sea, explores what the next steps are for the Government in tackling plastic pollution.

‘For fork’s sake, ban the most polluting single-use plastics NOW’. That was the message on our placards outside Downing Street as we handed in a petition with over 117,000 signatures calling on the Government to ban some of the most polluting single-use plastic items now, like plastic forks. 

After we launched this petition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a consultation proposing a ban of single-use plastic forks, plates and polystyrene food containers. There can be no doubt this is a big step forward in our efforts to tackle plastic pollution. In response, over 51,000 City to Sea and 38 Degrees supporters responded to the Defra consultation supporting the ban, arguing that it needs to be introduced asap, not in 2023 as the Government currently plans. 

Megan Bentall, Head of Campaigns at 38 Degrees, who is used to dealing with large public outpourings of support said: “There’s no doubt about it – this is an absolutely massive show of public support for finally banning these unnecessary and polluting plastic items. 

“The fact that more than 50,000 people have taken the time to participate in a detailed government consultation on this issue is the clearest demonstration yet that we are simply done with these plastic items polluting our environment.” 

The UK: a world leader in tackling plastic pollution?

With a sympathetic government department, huge public support and a pressing environmental crisis, I am confident that we will see these most polluting single-use plastics banned. Undoubtedly a huge win. Our political leaders tell us then that this positions us as world leaders in tackling plastic pollution. 

This last point is far from the truth. The reality is that we are struggling to keep up with the very minimum standards mandated to EU member states through the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive – the same bans that Scotland has said will introduce a year before England, leaving serious questions about internal UK markets divergence. The reality is that this ban, which is being introduced with dragging feet, is the first baby step on a much longer journey. 

It’s with this in mind that I wrote a letter with Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, Chief Executive at Keep Britain Tidy and Jamie Peters, Interim Director of Campaigning Impact at Friends of the Earth to the Environment Minister, George Eustice, outlining the next steps we felt the Government needs to take if they are serious about tackling plastic pollution. 

The letter argues that the Government needs to go beyond just banning the odd item and instead set ambitious targets in the Environment Act. These, we argued must include: 

  • An at least 50 per cent reduction in non-essential single-use plastics by 2025.
  • An overarching plastics reduction target, including but not limited to single-use plastics. This would ensure a progressive reduction in the overall use of all non-essential plastics, building towards preventing plastic pollution of the environment as far as possible by 2042. This must address those harder to tackle plastics from vehicles tyres and brakes and from clothes among others, and the specific problem of microplastics.  
  • Reuse targets of at least 25 per cent of packaging being reusable by 2025, rising to 50 per cent by 2030. This would guarantee that a large proportion of the reduction in plastic pollution is met by an increase in the market share of reusables, and make sure substitutions of single-use plastics for other damaging single-use materials are avoided. 
The solutions of the future

Let’s take each of these points in turn. The first is to set a legally binding target to reduce single-use plastics by 50 per cent by 2025. Sure, the ban on the most polluting items will go some way towards this. But it is also an acknowledgement that our waste and resource systems are stretched to breaking point and we cannot just recycle our way out of this crisis. We need to reduce the amount we produce. When we are flooding the world with plastics, we can’t just need to mop the mess up – we also need to turn the taps off.  

Secondly, we called for an overarching plastics reduction target, including but not limited to single-use plastics. This acknowledges that a lot of plastic pollution does not come from plastics we can see and touch like bottles and plastic forks. Instead, microplastics and nanoplastics are shed directly from clothing and car tyres. This isn’t a small change either, the microplastics from car tyres are responsible for more than 200,000 tonnes of microplastics entering our oceans every year. A recent study that found nanoparticles dating back to the 1960s at both poles were surprised to find a quarter of the particles were from vehicle tyres. 

This problem needs to be addressed head-on as part of our wider efforts to tackle plastic pollution. And this is why we sought reassurance and sight of the Government’s plan to tackle plastic pollution in its entirety, not just as a waste and resource question. Do they even have one? 

We, politely, pointed out that there was already one in place in the form of the Plastic Pollution Bill that is due back for its second reading on March 18. This isn’t the only way of tackling the issue, but it is a concrete and well thought out example of a legislative approach to tackling plastic pollution in its entirety. At the moment, we don’t know if the Government has an equivalent plan in place. If it doesn’t, it needs one urgently, and if it does, we urgently need to see it to feed into it and make it as good as possible. 

Lastly, we called for a reuse target of at least 25 per cent of packaging being reusable by 2025, rising to 50 per cent by 2030. We simply can’t talk about plastic pollution and a reduction in single-use plastics without talking about increasing the market share of reuse and refillable packaging. For consumers, this could be normalising refilling water bottles from public fountains, drinking coffee from reusable cups or topping up cereals from supermarket dispensers. 

Consumer demands and market movements

These are the packaging solutions of the future that we need to legislate for now. We know from our own research that there is consumer demand for this. Polling by City to Sea and Friends of the Earth to mark World Refill Day, found three out of four people (74 per cent) would like to see more refill options, for things like dried foods, laundry detergents and takeaway coffees, available to them so they can limit the amount of single-use plastic in their lives. While more than half of all people (55 per cent) think supermarkets and big-name brands are not doing enough to address plastic pollution. Crucially, 81 per cent of Brits want the UK government to make refillable products easier to buy and more widely available, as a main priority for reducing plastic pollution.

We also know there is movement in the markets towards these solutions. Coca-Cola recently announced a commitment to 25 per cent of packaging to be reusable by 2030 (something that I welcomed with healthy scepticism here). What we now need is for the Government to commit to legally binding targets to give smaller and medium-sized businesses the confidence and reassurances they need to invest in these systems. This answers not only a consumer demand, but a planetary ecological necessity.

The next six months are crucial and what we have outlined here is a pathway for the Government to take to show it is truly committed to tackling the plastic crisis (before anyone comments “what about the climate crisis?”, it’s important to remember these are two sides of the same coin). 

While some might sneer at the small steps that are being taken to tackle plastic pollution, I see them as important movement. This is a rolling start for a much bigger journey. But if Defra wants to convince us that they are serious they need to show some urgency in these first steps and to also signal that they understand the length of the journey that they are on. 

If they can show they are travelling the right path, we are there as a partner to travel with and to help carry the load. But if they fall from the tracks, we won’t hesitate in telling them where they’ve gone wrong and supporting them to get back on track.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Politics

The government’s plan to ban single-use plastics is too little too late

This article was originally published by Left Foot Forward.

There is a flood of plastic waste entering our rivers and oceans. And we need Government, not just consumers and businesses, to help turn off the taps.

Over the last 20 years we’ve produced more plastic than in the whole of the last century. Global production has increased twentyfold since the 1960s. It is expected to double again over the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050.  We now produce over 300 million tonnes every year – up to half of which is single-use. Only 10% has ever been recycled.

This is having a devastating impact. Globally, between 8 – 12 m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every year and it is now estimated that more than 150 million tonnes of plastics have accumulated in the world’s oceans.

The recently announced Marine Conservation Society beach clean data starkly tells us that for every 100m of coastline we have an average of 385 pieces of litter – the vast majority of which is plastic.

It is understandable then why many, including ourselves at City to Sea, have welcomed DEFRA’s recent announcement to ban some of the most polluting single-use plastics. Having already banned straws, cotton buds and coffee stirrers, they are now consulting on banning single-use cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups. They declare that this makes them “world-leading”.

Sadly, for our planet, this is far from the truth. What they are proposing is the very bare minimum and does little to answer our concerns about their wider efforts to tackle plastic pollution.

Too late  

In 2019 the EU passed the EU Single-Use Directive which included provision to ban all of these most polluting single-use items. This came into force in July 2021. At this point we had heard nothing from government about their plans and so we launched a petition and dubbed their lack of action a “dereliction of Brexit promises”. After nearly 100,000 signed our petition DEFRA scrambled to announce that they planned to announce a consultation on banning these items.

3 months later – last week – they did finally announce a consultation. To dub this game of policy catch up as “world-leading” is frankly “world misleading”.

And this tardy approach to a very immediate environmental problem has carried on. Despite including positive and welcome measures in the consultation (such as banning harmful bioplastics) they are now not proposing to bring this ban into force until 2023. This is two years behind the rest of Europe and a year later than Scotland’s recently announced proposals.  

We’ve established that this action is too late, but it is, again sadly for our planet, also too little.

Too little

During the Environment Bill we repeatedly challenged Government with cross-party support to introduce a legally binding target to reduce plastic pollution as a whole. We wrote about why this is important for Left Foot Forward. But Government chose to reject this, asserting that they wanted a more ‘ambitions and holistic target’ that deals with all kinds of waste not just plastic.

And so we are left with a big, like an elephant in the room sized big, question. What is government’s over-arching strategy to tackling plastic pollution? Do they have a plan for example for the microplastics from car tyres that are responsible for over 200,000 tonnes of microplastics entering our oceans every year? Do they have a plan for supermarket food wrapping plastics or for plastics flushed down our toilets causing sewage blockages and sewage overspills?

The Environment Act empowers them to use big policy leavers. They can introduce a Deposit Return Scheme, introduce a tax on single-use plastics or forcing greater consistency in recycling standards. But for us to have any confidence in these measures being suitable for the scale of the problem we face, we need Government to commit to ambitious and legally binding targets.

In 2022 they will be setting various ‘waste and resource’ targets – within that needs to be an ambitious target to reduce single-use plastics by at least 50% by 2025. Boris Johnson was right when he said  “we’ve all got to cut down our use of plastic”.

But, and this is important, they also need to explain how they plan to tackle, measure and reduce harmful microplastics that don’t even enter our waste and resource systems. A lot of plastic pollution isn’t plastics we hold in our hands on a day to day basis but it is found in the food we eat, the oceans we swim and even the air we breathe.

No-one ever said this was easy, but if government wants to be seen as ‘world leaders’ these are the policy questions they need to start answering.    

Steve Hynd is Policy Manager at City to Sea, a not-for-profit that campaigns to stop plastic pollution at source.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Politics

Plastic pollution; how Britain now trails Europe after ‘Green Brexit’ failure

This article was originally published as an opinion piece for The Yorkshire Post.

Is Britain’s ‘Green Brexit’ falling at the first hurdle? 

Back in 2018 Michael Gove gave a speech declaring “a new era” for our environment. In that speech he categorically said, “we’re planning to go further in dealing with the pollution caused by single use plastics”. Two years on and these promises are starting to ring a little hollow, as the government drags its feet towards the very first hurdle along the route to stop plastic pollution, scratching their heads and idly discussing whether or not they’re going to need a stepladder to get over it.

From July 2021, bans on single-use plastic cutlery, plates, polystyrene trays and other food packaging are coming into force across Europe as part of the EU’s Single-use Plastics Directive. The ban was agreed by the UK when we were part of the EU. It was intended to tackle the most polluting single-use plastics that were also the easiest to replace or do without. In other words, these restrictions are the absolute minimum that the EU expects member states to achieve.

Two years after the ban passed through the EU Institutions, England has yet to even launch a consultation asking if some of these items should be banned – the first step in the legislative process. This stands in marked contrast to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly who have both consulted on a full ban on all of these most polluting items. England is falling behind not just the rest of the EU, but also the other nations within the UK. 

This is why over 20 organisations have written to this government, asking them to take this most basic of steps.

Whilst it is the easy, logical first step in a longer process, it is still a significant move. Packaging from take-away food and drinks is a huge cause of plastic pollution and items like plastic cutlery and take-away containers are consistently in the top ten most polluting items found on beaches around the world. Indeed, new research has revealed that plastic food containers and food wrappers are two of the four most widespread items polluting our oceans, rivers and beaches. 

We also know that a full ban on these items would be popular. At the time of writing a petition by City to Sea and Greenpeace calling for this is just short of 100,000 signatures, days after being launched, and polling consistently shows that plastic pollution is one of the UK public’s biggest environmental concerns.

In response, the government will claim to be a ‘global leader’, pointing to their ban of (some) microbeads, plastic straws, coffee stirrers and cotton buds. But we’re falling behind all of our neighbours in dealing with this problem, and we’re still Europe’s biggest plastic pollution producer. 

A genuinely world leading approach to tackling plastic pollution would be one of the following. Either rapidly adopt the EU measures, and then use the UK’s influential position in this year’s international environmental talks to try to get as many other nations as possible to adopt them as a minimum international standard. Or alternatively, implement fully comprehensive, legally binding limits to plastic pollution to their flagship Environment Bill, showing real leadership and providing a more ambitious model for other nations to follow.

Instead, our government is charting its own course, dipping below international minimum standards at times, while also failing to demonstrate a vision for the way forward. What we have is a government that echoes the language of the plastics industry, talking up the importance of recycling while ignoring the ever growing mountain of plastic that will never be recycled and ends up incinerated, in landfill or exported, damaging other countries’ environments and the health of their people. 

If this government was serious about tackling plastic pollution it could and should immediately look to fully transpose the EU’s Single-Use Plastic Directive into UK law and  lobby for these minimum standards to be adopted internationally. At the same time it could and should be working to introduce legally binding targets to reduce plastic production as part of the Environment Bill. Two UK supermarkets have already pledged to halve their plastic packaging by 2025. The hurdles are all clearable, we just need to aim that little bit higher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Travelling on trains without plastics has never been so easy

This article was written for Scenic Britain and first published on their blog as part of City to Sea’s #PlasticFreeTravel campaign.

More people than ever are travelling by train, and more people than ever are also trying to reduce the amount of plastic they use. This summer it is easier than ever to travel without plastic. Read on to find out how.

As part of the #PlasticFreeTravel campaign, the environmental campaigning organisation, City to Sea is working with Network Rail to have fountains installed in 19 of Britain’s largest railway stations, which have already saved the equivalent of over a million plastic bottles.

This is about making it easier (and cheaper) for people to try and reduce the amount of plastic they use when travelling – especially on holidays.

As Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said, “This is a great start and shows that passengers share our passion to reduce single-use plastic… I’m pleased to say we’re making it even easier for people using our stations to refill their bottles too.” And that’s the name of the game here – making it easy for you (yes you!) to travel with less plastic.

With Pret, Starbucks, Costa and so many more high street brands now signed up to the Refill app there is always going to be a Refill point close by major train stations. This means less single-use plastic purchased – and less ending up polluting our shared natural environment.

We can all do our bit by remembering to always pack a reusable water bottle into our bags. It’s good for your wallet and good for the environment.

Sadly, not quite full steam ahead

Although a few train operating companies are looking into this, water refills are still not available on any train – so if it’s a long journey you’ll have to pack all the water you need to stay away from plastic bottles.

So, remember to Refill at the station before you leave.

For now, City to Sea will keep challenging UK Train Operating Companies to be the first to offer easily accessible, free tap water refills on board a train. The first one who does will make history and others would soon follow.

We can all do our bit

There is so much we can all be doing to travel with less plastic-this summer. Here are our 5 top-tips:

1. Download the refill app and stay hydrated

With the Refill app, it’s easy for you to find your nearest Refill Station on the go! There are now over 20,000 places to Refill your water bottle around the UK. Our aim is to have a Refill Station on every high street and every station.

2. Carry a water bottle

This summer make sure the first thing to go into your hand luggage is a reusable water bottle! We know people buy bottled water when they’re travelling. Through social change, we’re making it the norm to carry a reusable bottle, so you’ll never have to buy a plastic bottle again.

3. Carry a reusable cup

In 2011 around 2.5 billion coffee cups were thrown away each year.

When we’re holidaying, it’s easy to slip out of habits like carrying our keep cups – which is why when you’re travelling your plastic waste can spiral.

You can be part of the solution by taking your reusable coffee cup with you wherever you go.

4. Reuse your beach toys or buy secondhand

Last year, a shocking 600 bodyboards were abandoned on just 3 beaches in the South West of England in one month alone. Now think how many £1 plastic bucket and spade sets or novelty inflatable dinosaurs and flamingos were purchased and thrown away! It doesn’t have to be like this.

If you heading to Devon and Cornwall this summer (on maybe the most beautiful train journey in the UK), then take toys to the beach and have fun, but make sure you keep hold of them and reuse them each year. This top-tip is simple – don’t buy rubbish you don’t need.

5. Say no to travel miniatures

An estimated 980 tonnes of mini-plastic shampoo bottles are being dumped by British holiday each year! That’s the equivalent to two-and-a-half Boeing 747s! Say no to the travel toiletries and instead of buying the super expensive and tiny bottles of shampoo and soap, take your own toiletries from home in refillable travel-sized containers. Or, if you really need to stock up then opt for plastic-free shampoo and soap bars.

We know they aren’t always easy to find in shops and that’s why we’ve set up this petition calling on the big supermarkets to stock plastic-free toiletries.

Find out more about the #PlasticFreeTravel campaign.

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel

Hotels are ditching mini toiletries – here is how you can help them do it faster

044-CityToSea_TravelCampaign_TwitterInfographics_1200x675px-V4This article was originally published in Pebble Magazine, as part of City to Sea (where I now work as their Campaigns Manager)’s #PlasticFreeTravel campaign.

There was a time when no holiday was considered complete without trying to eke out the most miniscule amounts of shampoo from those mini bottles that haunt hotel bathrooms. But the times they are a changing.

This week it was announced that all hotels run by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) will remove mini toiletries from their rooms, after realising they get through 200 million mini bottles of shampoo, shower gel and so on – per year.

The move will see their hotel chains such as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotels taking the small single-use plastic bottles out of their 843,000 rooms by 2021.

These toiletry bottles have been a curious part of a hotel experience for as long as most of us can remember.

Alongside the shower cap, the free hand conditioner that smells like Aunt Marjorie’s potpourri and the trouser press they were an unquestioned part of hotel room ‘experience’.

Premier Inn, the UK’s largest hotel chain, has never used them and instead fitted rooms with dispensers to cut soap waste as well as plastic pollution. It’s a move that has saved them money as well as the environment.

Last year Marriott Hotels announced they were scrapping the mini bottles and just a few months ago the first ever piece of legislation was introduced in California that would see these tiny toiletries banned – forever.

But how did hotels ever think these environmentally disastrous and economically costly bottles were ever a good idea?

Why do we need to get rid of mini toiletries?

If there’s anything that conjures up single use plastic when you’re on holiday, it’s hotel toiletries. Mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner might be handy in the moment but they contribute to our overwhelming, global plastic crisis.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has worked out there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2020. Plastic makes up 60-90% of all marine pollution, with over eight million pieces of plastic ending up in the oceans, every day.

In addition to the millions of mini toiletries that hotels get through, research suggests that 15.5 million Brits buy travel size bottles when going on holiday with many saying they would make no effort to recycle them. This results in an estimate 980 tonnes of plastic bottles being dumped by holiday makers each year. For context, that’s the equivalent to two-and-a-half Boeing 747s.

But there is good news for the summer.

We don’t have to wait for our government to ban these things before we next enjoy a weekend break. There are other ways to enjoy a cranial cleanse that doesn’t involve harming the oceans.

Hard bar shampoos and refillable bottles

The first is an obvious one. There are shampoo bars out there that come with no plastic packaging at all. But if you are really committed to the squelch of liquid shampoo as it oozes out onto your palm, then there is no reason not to buy refillable bottles.

There is a whole world of travel refillable containers out there waiting for you to decant your shampoo into for your mini break. To make this easy for customers though we need all the big supermarkets to stock these products and give customers a real choice.

Ask your travel brand to ditch plastic

The travel sector is changing fast. Some Thomas Cook research found that 90% of its customers care about plastic pollution and want them to do something about it.

In addition, 60% are more likely to use a travel provider who took plastic pollution seriously.

At the same time refill schemes are slowly becoming the norm, so you don’t need to keep buying single use plastic to take away.

Waitrose recently became the first of the big supermarkets to introduce a refill station in its store. This allows customers to top up dry goods and beer and wine in reusable containers.

Not near a Waitrose? See our list of over 90 zero waste stores across the UK where you can refill haircare, pick up hard bar shampoos, bamboo toothbrushes and other plastic free travel essentials.

And then there is the pioneering Refill App – that allows you to find the nearest place you can refill your reusable water bottle for free.

Ask your hotel about their recycling and eco-friendly policies

We all know greenwashing is rife. Don’t believe the myth that recycling will solve everything. Remember that of the more than six billion tonnes of plastic waste produced by 2015, only 9% has ever been recycled. Of the rest, almost all of it is now in the landfill or the natural environment (79%) with the remainder incinerated.

If you happen to find yourself sharing a shower with one of those ridiculous mini bottles of shampoo; firstly, don’t use it and secondly, let management know you don’t want them to use them. It might seem like a small move but in these rapidly changing times hotel chains need just the smallest of nudges to adopt more sustainable approaches.

You can be that nudge.

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel