Why you shouldn't clap for Theresa May's plastic promises: a Zoology student explains...


Theresa May has recently vowed to eliminate the UK’s plastic waste by 2042. Plastic is an environmental disaster, and a growing one.

Firstly, most synthetic plastics are made from petroleum or gases - both of which are non-renewable sources - and the techniques used to extract them destroy ecosystems. Secondly, even the manufacture and destruction of plastic pollutes the air with carcinogens, which is dangerous to both the ecosystem and humans. Plastic packaging, which is mostly unnecessary, is not biodegradable and will sit in landfills, continuing to pile up, adding to plastic pollution.

As a seasoned wildlife conservation volunteer and someone studying a Zoology degree, a huge part of my life centres around environmental protection and sustainability. So you might have assumed that I'd happy opening the Independent to see the news. The Prime Minister is pledging to fix our plastic problem, that’s great right?

Well, maybe it’s not that simple.

All around me, I see many of my friends and family actively thinking about and participating in actions towards sustainability. Just this week, my Uni announced that they had replaced every plastic straw in all the campus eateries and bars with recyclable paper ones. These sorts of actions aren’t reserved for 'tree-hugging hippies' anymore; they are for your average joe. And this is perhaps why many of us, including myself, are disappointed by May’s 25-year plan.

In 1990, the US Island Nantucket pledged to ban all plastic packaging and had this implemented fully by 2016. Plastic bags have been banned in California, most parts of Hawaii, Morocco, Tanzania, to name a few. Therefore, May’s promise seems a little weak. It lacks a distinct sense of urgency. Surely, the UK, which is normally seen as one of the leading forces in environmental action and sustainability, can act with more urgency than this. In a world that is hurtling towards the impending ferocity of climate change and pollution, leading to problems such as an increased amount of dangerous extreme weather events, we cannot really afford to wait.

Of course, you could argue that action needs to start somewhere, and while I do agree with this normally, May’s plan also appears vague and lacks any sense of focus or detail. Notice that reports say she vows to ban “avoidable” plastic. Avoidable could mean a huge wealth of things. The examples given are straws, the plastic packaging on food, and carrier bags, which are an excellent start. However, the plan will also urge supermarkets to implement “plastic-free aisles” and will extend the 5p carrier bag charge to all English retailers. Surely, this contradicts the very promise she has made? If all unavoidable plastic is being banned completely, why are we then merely brushed off with just a plan of “plastic-free aisles”?

To ease the backlash from environmentalists, scientists, and many of the public, May might find it beneficial to give some specificity to her plan. We need to know what defines “unavoidable” plastic, what exactly will be banned, and receive a structured timeline of events before we jump up and down to applaud her for tackling one of the biggest environmental problems to date.

#tyro #NORM #TheresaMay #25yearplan #plastic #environment