Tag Archives: Plastic pollution

Why we need a legally binding target to reduce plastic pollution in the Environment Bill

plastic bottles

‘This is the government’s last chance to show real leadership ahead of COP26’

This article was first published on Left Foot Forward – please do support them. We need independent media outlets now more than ever.

For many, the defining image of plastic pollution is the one shaped through Blue Planet 2 – that of floating plastic bottles in the middle of the ocean.

It’s a heart-breaking image that has spurred much action but in truth it barely scratches at the surface of the problem. Literally. It is thought that the majority of plastic in our oceans is between 200 and 600 metres below the surface.

And while this prevailing image of floating bottles has undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for incredible action, and it has spurred the development of some positive policy decisions like that of the now sadly significantly delayed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), it has, seemingly, blinded decision makers to the wider problem of plastic pollution that is in the air around us, in the food we eat and the oceans we rely on. 

At the latest hearing of the Environment Bill at report stage, Conservative backbencher Chris Loder MP submitted an amendment that specifically would force government to set legally binding targets to reduce plastic pollution – covering the entirety of the problem. This amendment was backed by businesses, MPs, faith leaders, academics and campaigning organisations alike, including City to Sea. 

The Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow’s, response was telling. Pow’s reply was that government could not (or would not) support Loder’s amendment because they want a more ‘ambitions and holistic target’ that deals with all kinds of waste not just plastic. On the surface this seems reasonable, but like plastic pollution itself, if you scratch the surface of this logic you find a much bigger problem. 

Firstly, and crucially, by tying up efforts to tackle plastic pollution with “resource efficiency” you miss major sources of plastic pollution including most microplastics. These pollutants are not even entering our waste streams but are going directly into our natural environment. They are found in alarming numbers in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the oceans that sustain life itself.

These often do not come from conventional “waste and resource” sources like floating plastic bottles but are often shed directly into the natural environment. Think for example of the microplastics from car tyres that are responsible for over 200,000 tonnes of microplastics entering our oceans every year. Microplastic pollution may be largely invisible to the human eye, but it is profoundly felt in our natural environment and can have a potentially devastating effect – especially as it can be mistaken for food by some of our smallest ocean creatures, which are then eaten by bigger creatures as part of the food chain.  

Secondly, think of all the plastic that should, but for various reasons, doesn’t, even enter our waste streams. For example, every year water companies are spending millions on unblocking sewers that are overflowing due to plastic wet wipes and period products that have been flushed down the loo. Our riverbanks are strewn with these grim physical reminders of the plastic crisis we face. 

The government’s response and refusal to include plastic pollution in its targets section of the Environment Bill is born from either ignorance or lack of concern.  Instead of focusing on reducing the metric that really counts, plastic pollution, this government repeatedly echoes the language of the plastics industry in talking up the role of recycling. Recycling is important, but it must be seen as one of the many steps needed to reduce plastic pollution, not the end goal in of itself. 

We know, and I am sure the Minister knows, that recycling doesn’t currently work at the scale we need it to and we can’t recycle our way out of this plastic crisis. We need government to focus on what does work – and that’s to implement and enforce the waste hierarchy in all areas of policy, and to then set concrete, legally binding, targets to reduce plastic pollution in their flagship Environment Bill. 

They can still do this. The Environment Bill is due to come after the Queen’s Speech in May – this is the government’s last chance to show real leadership ahead of COP26 on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our ages. The only question left to ask is, will they? 

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

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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.

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