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Is the UK Lagging Behind on Plastic Waste Reduction?

A few weeks ago, India made a massively surprising and massively encouraging pledge: to ban all single-use plastics by 2022. This is an enormous undertaking for a four-year period, especially for a country that is broadly recognised as one of the poorest nations in the world. And that’s really the surprise of the announcement, because common sense dictates that it should be the richer economies leading the way.

Plastic is now considered to be one of the greatest environmental threats that the world faces. It’s estimated that if nothing is done to reverse the current state of affairs, by 2050, 99% of all seabirds will have ingested plastic and there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. And we’ve reached this stage because, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Every bit of plastic ever made still exists.”

Think about it: Every bit of plastic ever made still exists. All the straws, teaspoons, drinks bottles and bits of clingfilm. And that’s before we’ve got the sturdier stuff; the toys, laptop cases, car interiors and window frames.

No wonder the seas are choking on the stuff.

So, the news that India is taking a stance and banning all single-use plastics from production is a really positive and significant move. But what about the rest of the world? What about the UK?

It made the news a few months ago when the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a similar pledge, but her pledge was rife with caveats – most notably, that the UK would ban single-use plastics ‘where it is “economically practical” to do so’. And fair enough; no one wants to see the UK find itself back in another recession, but if India can work towards the total removal of single-use plastics from production, why can’t everyone else? Why can’t we?

We’re already making headway with plastic carrier bags. And plastic straws, stirrers and cottons buds are likely to be removed from sale from next year (likely – again another caveat-filled pledge). But, we all need to do more if we’re going to make a difference. And changing our drinking culture is an easy place to start.

Removing single-use plastic drinks bottles is as simple as providing adequate alternatives. If people have access to drinking water when they need it, then the practise of purchasing and binning plastic bottles will soon be forgotten. And with more and more businesses and organisations installing sports bottle filling stations on their premises voluntarily, it wouldn’t cost the Government much to build a public drinking water infrastructure, filling in the gaps that business has left. That alone would remove 150 plastic bottles per adult per year, which would be a tremendous start.

I’m thrilled that India has vowed to make such a positive change. With a population exceeding 1.3 billion, this move could make such a hugely positive difference. But, I can’t help but feel that it leaves the UK – and other influential countries – with a lot of catching up to do.