This is an article for the South Wales Evening Post
As a local councillor, I deal daily with complaints and issues around refuse collection, recycling, fly-tipping and litter. It seems to me that local councils and government put the emphasis on the consumer and local resident to protect the environment and recycle, without making much effort themselves to reduce the amount of waste in the first place.
It is for that reason that I welcome the conclusion of think tank, Green Alliance, who say the single most effective action to reduce plastic pollution in the seas would be a container return scheme along the lines of those run in large parts of Europe, north America and Australia. In such schemes, a small tax is added to recyclable and reusable containers at the point of sale, which consumers can reclaim by returning them.
Their research has found that 33% of plastic marine pollution comes from littering of drinks bottles and that a deposit scheme would capture about 95% of littered plastic bottles, reducing marine litter by almost a third:
As well as a deposit scheme, they want Government to reduce pollution from plastic pellets, which are responsible for 9% of marine plastic pollution; enforce existing maritime dumping bans; upgrade wastewater treatment plants with sand filters to catch microplastic fibres from synthetic clothes when they are washed; and expand the ban on microbeads to all products, not just cosmetic rinse-off face washes and other wash-off products.
A million plastic bottles are bought every minute across the globe. Production will increase 20% by 2021. Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles ended up in landfill or in the ocean.
It is no longer good enough for Government to rely on us to do their work for them. The charge for plastic bags has shown how effective punitive measures can be in reducing pollution and helping to protect the environment. Measures to reduce packaging and to incentivise recycling are long overdue.