Youth Activists Call for Greater Ambition to Tackle Plastic Pollution

Today, two of Westminster’s most influential environmental All-Party Parliamentary Groups came together to find solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our generation – tackling plastic pollution. In the first ever joint Ocean Conservation and Tidy Britain APPG event, youth activists from around the UK had the opportunity to quiz a panel of leading experts, including the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon George Eustice MP, on what they’re doing to tackle the crisis.

Whilst in recent years, progressive steps have been taken to tackle plastic pollution, including the recent government ban on single-use stirrers and straws, a deluge of plastic continues to enter the environment every day. With plastic packaging production expected to double by the late 2030s, and quadruple by 2050, it’s clear that piecemeal measures are unable to seriously tackle the issue. Meaningful solutions that address the root cause of the crisis are therefore urgently needed. 

During the virtual event, parliamentarians from both APPGs heard from a cross-sector panel of experts on what they believe the true solutions to the plastic pollution crisis are, and what they themselves are doing to tackle the problem. Solutions suggested by the panel ranged from the need for manufacturers to take greater responsibility for the products they produce, increasing the transparency of recycling streams, adopting a circular economy, and ultimately reducing the amount of plastic that is produced in the first place.

The Secretary of State, Rt Hon George Eustice MP, highlighted that the Environment Bill, currently making its way through parliament, will introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme (EPR), as well as charges for single use plastics and a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), systemic measures which will all help to stop plastic flowing into the ocean.

Michelle Norman, Director of External Affairs and Sustainability at Suntory Beverage and Food Europe, stated that plastics are a precious resource which need to be kept within the system. She called on the government to introduce DRS and EPR systems as soon as possible to help businesses reuse and recycle valuable materials.

Providing an insight into the action taking place internationally, Yuyun Ismawati, a prize-winning environmental engineer from Indonesia, highlighted the burden on developing nations who bear the brunt of the plastic shipped offshore by the UK. She called for greater transparency on how we deal with the plastic waste we produce.

Writer and broadcaster, Lucy Siegle addressed the need to develop a truly circular economy, whereby products are designed to be reused in the first instance rather than relying on end of life solutions such as recycling. Her comments were echoed in Professor Richard Thompson’s presentation, who noted the need for science-led legislation designed to prevent further environmental destruction, rather than simply attempting to treat the symptoms of our actions.

Listening to these experts were a panel of youth activists who questioned whether enough was being done right now to safeguard the future of the planet. Eilidh Robb from the Youth Climate Coalition urged the government to take more action to reduce plastic production at source. Noorulanne Younis of Tauheedul Islam Girls High School questioned how government can best encourage businesses and manufacturers to adopt sustainable, non-plastic alternative products.

Over the course of the event it became clear that there is no one silver bullet that will stop plastic pollution, but rather what is needed is a profound cross-sector shift in how we tackle the issue. The group agreed that much more action and ambition was needed to tackle the root cause of plastic pollution and stop the production of pointless and polluting plastics.

Concluding the event, Chair of the Tidy Britain APPG, Kevin Hollinrake MP, affirmed that “prevention is by far the best cure and has to be our focus, […] the Environment Bill will undoubtedly be the vehicle for such legislation, ensuring that the production and sale of unnecessary and pointless plastics is prevented in future.”