Try to imagine a world without plastic. Wherever you may be reading this, take a second to step back and look at the world around you. We live in a world dominated by plastic. It has revolutionised the way we live; informing how we eat, dress, and identify ourselves.
Unfortunately, our love-affair with plastic has blinded us to the damaging effects it is having on both ourselves and the environment. Every year 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean, damaging ecosystems and by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Most worryingly of all, micro-plastics (granulated pieces of plastic that are unable to fully biodegrade) are getting into our food supply – having been digested by fish – and infiltrating our water system. Whether you realise it or not, this is a problem which affects us all.
So what can be done to wean us off our plastic addiction?
On the one hand, simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. Taking reusable water bottles to lectures, using reusable coffee mugs at coffee shops on campus, taking your bag-for-life to your weekly grocery shop, and using metal straws at the pub; these are all great steps we can take to limit our plastic footprint through very little cost or effort.
However, as consumers we can only do so much. Ultimately, it is down to big businesses to make the necessary changes to reduce the nation’s plastic use. British supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste a year; this is over half of all annual UK household plastic waste. Unfortunately, this figure is only an estimate as nearly all supermarkets have signed a confidentiality agreement to keep their plastic footprint secret.
Instead of forcing supermarkets to be more transparent about their plastic use, the government has stood by and allowed big businesses to continue using single-use plastics. These are both unsustainable and wasteful, draining crude materials to be used only once and then go straight to the landfill for the next 500 years.
In our highly competitive economy, money is everything and supermarkets will not listen until they are forced to. In France, plans are in place to introduce a “penalty system” which will increase the cost of packaging made of non-recycled plastic with the aim of making them both less attractive to consumers and big businesses.
Its time the UK introduced a Plastic Tax.
Tax revenue collected can be used to invest in a more efficient, standardised recycling system, fund research into possible alternatives to plastic, fund bursaries for people to study chemistry and environmental science, and provide incentives for shops to switch to using glass bottles, which can be brought back by the customer and replaced.
A Plastic Tax sounds radical in nature, but the success of the plastic bag tax (which has brought with it an 80% reduction in plastic bag use) is a cause for optimism.
What is clear however is that there is simply not enough political will to tackle the plastic crisis. Unlike the obesity crisis, which brought in the sugar tax, forcing fizzy drink companies to change their recipes and meet a maximum sugar threshold, the plastic crisis has been deemed unimportant. If the government wanted to tax plastics they could, so why aren’t they? Is it simply because the government are not aware of the scale of the problem, or are they purposely burying their heads in the plastic-ridden sand?
Unfortunately, at the moment we are governed by a Conservative Party that refuses to stand up against big businesses on whom they rely on to stay in power. Their Free Market ideology has imposed a colossal strain on our environment, allowing companies to maximise profit through the use of cheap, non-recyclable plastics. Whatever is deemed a potential threat to profit is sidelined and kept out of the public eye and as long as we have a government in power who prioritise cooperate greed over citizen welfare, the plastic problem will continue to worsen.
The consequence of not acting soon enough will be disastrous for us and our habitat. All the plastic which has ever been made is still on earth, polluting the ocean and clogging up landfill. Failing to act will result in the destruction of thousands more organisms and habitats which are essential to our ecosystem. We are the plastic generation, and we have a duty to make a change.