In the seventh of a series of articles following the progress of the Wanstead Environmental Charter, Councillor Paul Donovan explains why you should return plastic packaging to the supermarkets
The work of creating a cleaner, greener Wanstead has focused recently on the need to cut plastics, especially from the High Street. Inspired by the excellent BBC programme War on Plastic, the people of Wanstead recently took unwanted plastic packaging back to Tesco, M&S and the Co-op.
Plenty of plastic was piled up in the trolleys, then delivered to the managers of the different shops. The managers showed a positive willingness to engage and continue the dialogue. Tesco pointed to its own recycling record.
The problem, of course, is huge, with plastic choking the planet. Now, the stuff is literally everywhere: in the food chain, water supply and air. It is estimated there are 19.5 billion single-use plastic items in the UK at any one time. And these plastic usage levels are set to triple by 2025. There were eight billion plastic bottles produced last year.
Something clearly needs to be done. At an individual level, we can all aim to cut out single-use plastic. Locally, Redbridge Council is aiming to cut single-use plastic in its various facilities as part of the new waste strategy.
Shops also need to stop promoting plastic. The fact supermarkets charge much more for loose fruit and vegetables than they do for those wrapped in plastic containers says it all. As we found on the #ourplasticsfeedback day of action, the supermarkets often quote recycling in defence. However, the real challenge is not to produce the plastic in the first place.
One disturbing part of the War on Plastic programme concerned the discovery that recyclable waste from the UK was being dumped in Malaysia, where it was burnt. This created transport emissions, then the damage caused by burning to the environment and the illnesses in the local population. A failure on all levels.
The story illustrated the dangers of an out of sight, out of mind approach to the problem. It is of absolutely no use to the planet if this country just transports the problem elsewhere for someone else to deal with the consequences. Recycling is good, but clearly there needs to be far greater scrutiny of the process – a verifiable, transparent audit trail to ensure waste really is being recycled in a sustainable way.
The tide of plastic can be turned around. It requires us as individuals to stop using the stuff, re-use wherever possible and recycle. Put pressure on the supermarkets to act, take the plastic back. Also, though, we must get government to act to stop this deluge of waste that is choking the planet.