RURAL MATTERS: A monthly column by Tim Machin, chairman of the Lincolnshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England
If you are a regular reader of this column you will know I have a thing about waste plastic and I have written about both our changing shopping habits, binning the plastic carrier bag, and a couple of months ago, about the massive problem of bottle waste.
I have just come home from holiday visiting our daughter and grandchildren in Western Australia and, a couple of years after our English supermarkets abandoned free plastic bags, I was struck by the overuse there of grey plastic shopping bags. The weekly shop at one of the big chains (Woolworths... yes it still exists there) or Coles’ results in your shopping being packed by the checkout operator into a pile of bags. On one shop with 20 items in the trolley, we came out with 11 bags!
Most of those will end up in landfill, but a significant number will end up in the environment, posing a threat to wildlife, or visual amenity. I saw plastic bags floating in the otherwise pristine Indian Ocean, potentially ensnaring dolphins, turtles, sealions, penguins and any other of the myriad of sea creatures that call that coast home.
The BBC’s Blue Planet II raised awareness of this international problem and seems to have shocked politicians into action with a number of new initiatives to curb plastics waste now being talked about.
The State of Western Australia has recently announced that it will follow the lead of others, removing free plastic bags from supermarkets later this year.
Closer to home the Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced that a ‘Deposit Return Scheme’ (DRS) for plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans will be introduced. This will help boost recycling rates and combat the plague of litter in both the countryside and bodies of water.
This long-awaited decision came following a call for evidence in October last year which investigated how the littering of plastic, metal and glass drinks containers could be reduced, as well as the recycling of them increased. The evidence submitted was examined by retail giants such as Coca-Cola and Tesco, alongside other members of the Voluntary and Economic Incentives Working Group, for which CPRE provided the Secretariat. CPRE has campaigned nationally for the introduction of a DRS for 10 years, and is delighted by the announcement.
Emma Bridgewater, president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “This landmark announcement is the breakthrough we have been waiting for. CPRE have been campaigning for the introduction of a DRS for almost 10 years – it has been a long battle, but this significant victory is an enormous leap forward in the war against waste.
“Our countryside, oceans and wildlife have long since been the victim of our obsession with single-use bottles and cans, with the UK producing billions of them year after year.
“Many end up damaging our natural environments and killing our wildlife – and is also a shocking waste of valuable materials. The proven success of DRS in other countries means that now most of these bottles and cans will be captured and recycled – we congratulate the government on their decision.”
Deposit systems are already successfully operating in 38 countries around the world, producing average recycle rates for collected materials of 90 per cent – reaching as high as 94 per cent in Norway. The concept is simple – consumers will pay a small deposit on top of the cost of any drink that they buy. This is then returned to the customer when the container is returned to a retailer.