Last week, China introduced a ban on importing plastic waste and debates kicked off on a proposed ‘latte levy’ to cut coffee cup waste. Guest author, Hannah, joins us here on Which? Convo as she ponders whether it’s time we took a bit more responsibility for our own waste?
Today was my recycling day and I diligently put out our waste. Admittedly, there was more than usual thanks to the Christmas excesses, but as ever, my mind turned to how to consume less plastic as I squashed it all into the green bin.
Waste in the UK
Last week, China introduced its ban on importing plastic waste, meaning the UK can no longer ship its recycling to China. We’ve been sending an incredible 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling to China every year – that’s more than a quarter of all our plastics – but now the trade has been stopped.
So, what are we going to with it all? It’s no shock to hear the UK Recycling Association saying that the UK cannot deal with that much waste. And Recoup, an organisation which recycles plastics, says China’s imports ban could lead to stock-piling of plastic waste and incineration and landfill.
And according to a report published on Friday, in the UK we use and throw away around 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups. Using these non-recyclable coffee cups produces around 30,000 tonnes of waste every year. Some MPs are now calling for 25p ‘latte levy’ on takeaway coffee cups to cut waste.
If you watched Blue Planet II recently it was hard not to be concerned about our passion for plastic, as David Attenborough explained how marine life is being affected. Greenpeace estimates that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, killing marine life, threatening ecosystems and contaminating the fish we eat.
Recycling has hit a low point
Last April, I wrote here on Which? Conversation about how few throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials – just 7%, according to a Greenpeace report.
And, the news of China’s importing ban on plastic waste comes at a time when UK recycling rates have flatlined for five years – Keep Britain Tidy says that rates dropped to 44% in 2016. Now that we‘ve lost our ability to recycle much of our plastic in China, the knock-on effect on our recycling rates could be disastrous.
Solving the plastic problem
In November, the Chancellor announced that the government is considering taxing single-use containers, following a four-week consultation on bringing back deposit return schemes for bottles. The idea has been backed by retailers, including Co-op and Iceland.
I like this idea as it puts responsibility on both the retailer and the consumer, plus it’s been proven to work in other countries. In the UK, just 57% of all plastic bottles are collected for recycling, compared with up to 90% in countries that have deposit return schemes.
But I also believe in taking more personal responsibility and this year I’ve made it my resolution to consume less plastic. Here are a few ways that I have started:
- 1. Using tubs instead of plastic wrap to store food in the fridge and special ‘bento’ boxes for the children’s packed lunches
- 2. I got a Sodastream fizzy water maker for Christmas so I don’t have to buy bottled fizzy water – I would highly recommend this to fizzy water lovers!
- 3. No more plastic packets of ready-sliced cheeses – my new cheese slice creates the same thin slices for sandwiches
- 4. Buying loose fruit and veg instead of ready-packaged produce in plastic trays – and reusing the small plastic bags from my local fruit and veg shop
- 5. Taking a reusable coffee cup to cafés when buying a takeaway coffee.
Have you made any small changes like this to try to reduce your plastic consumption? How much personal responsibility do you think we should take and how much should be placed on the government and industry to make major changes? Do you think a plastic deposit-return scheme could help reduce waste?
This is a guest contribution by Hannah Jolliffe. All views expressed here are Hannah’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.