Big Business Should Pay For Cleaning Up Plastic Waste

Big Business Should Pay For Cleaning Up Plastic Waste.

A six-year-old boy, Harrison Forsyth, provided us with a much-needed wake-up call last week. He called on the boss of Aldi to protect our oceans, “Dear boss of Aldi, I have watched this programme called Blue Planet 2, and I have seen that the plastic in the sea is making the animals sick and die. So please can you stop using plastic that you cannot recycle?” Young Harrison is right to be concerned: the trapped turtles, dying birds and suffocating whales in BBC’s Blue Planet II show the damage that plastic is causing to our world. Millions of tonnes of plastics enter the oceans each year, and the United Nations says that if current pollution rates continue, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 – Harrison will be just 41 years-old.

Even though plastic is destroying our oceans, big corporations are being given money to produce cheap plastic. Taxpayers pay more than 90% of the cost of recycling, while huge subsidies are placed on fossil fuels, the major building block for plastic. This is unfair: we need to take bold action now. Corporations should pay for the damage they cause. Only then will they be forced to create environmentally friendly alternatives. Fossil fuel companies received subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.7tn) worldwide in 2015; China alone provided subsidies of $2.3tn. As plastic is made out of fossil fuels, these are effectively colossal plastic subsidies.

Rather than being paid to pollute our waters, the polluters should pay for their plastic waste to be recycled. Currently that cost is covered by the taxpayer, but instead, the cost of recycling should be part of the cost of the plastic itself – with the additional money being transferred to local governments to pay for recycling. The government should reward retailers who develop new sustainable ideas and raise charges on the packaging that is difficult to recycle. This would reduce the demand for deadly plastics among producers and retailers.

Michael Gove’s 25-year plan to reduce avoidable plastic waste by 2042 falls well short of the EU’s Strategy for Plastics which aims to do the same thing by 2030. We should not be lagging 12 years behind our EU neighbours. Gove claims to be “haunted” by Blue Planet, but he is bizarrely proposing leaving the plastic problem until he is 75 years old. The government proposals fail to make manufacturers and retailers pay for the environmental and social costs of plastic. The government should change this to stop big corporations ruining our oceans.

Unrecyclable plastic has left the oceans in a critical condition. We need radical action. France is aiming to use 100% recyclable plastic by 2025, and we should aim to match them. A ban on fish-killing unrecyclable plastics should be a priority. The retailer Iceland has just promised to scrap plastic packaging on all of its own-branded products within five years; other supermarkets should be required to do the same. The business costs of Brexit encourage companies to save money that should be invested in our environment. Last week the EU gave us a one-week ultimatum to comply with air quality laws. Our environment is at risk from Brexit so we need to make guarantees that EU environmental standards will be maintained in new trade deals outside of the EU.

We have an unconditional duty to protect the oceans for the sake of our children’s futures. If we want to save our turtles, birds and whales, we must take radical steps to tackle the plastic problem. This means incentivising business to reduce the use of plastic in favour of sustainable alternatives and banning unrecyclable plastic. If six-year-old Harrison can already see we need to take urgent action, then surely the time has come for brave and bold leadership to save our oceans.

Credit: Geraint Davies for The Guardian, 5 February 2018.