How we can win a Plastic Pollution Action Plan

The need for government action

Taking action in our communities and making changes to our own lifestyles is essential to reducing the amount of plastic we use. But it isn’t enough on its own to stem the tide of plastic polluting our oceans, towns and countryside.

To really make a difference, the government must lead the way. It must create laws to phase out plastic pollution and push companies to design safer and more environmentally friendly products.

We need legislation because we need action from this and future governments across the huge range of polluting uses of plastic. There are some welcome initiatives such as plans to ban plastic straws and cotton-bud and tax other single-use plastics. These are piecemeal and disconnected though and ignore the huge range of other plastic polluters such as from clothes, fishing nets, car tyres and paints.

Ultimately most uses of plastic should be phased out if we are to end the plastic pollution crisis. Exceptions must be made for hard-to-replace and essential uses, such as plastic straws for people with disabilities.

Some uses of plastic (e.g. plastic coffee stirrers) can be dealt with now but others are much more difficult to tackle, such as the tiny bits of plastic that come out when we wash our clothes or from car tyres.

Just as we did with the Climate Change Act, we need to lock this and future governments into taking action to stop all these uses of plastic from harming wildlife and risking human health.

A Plastic Pollution Action Plan, backed up by legislation

In order to prepare the ground for government action, we need to start building support in parliament. We need MPs to help drive forward the push for legislation. In order to do that we need to start getting commitments from them in public that they are in favour of government action backed up by legislation.

This is where the Action Plan comes in. The Action Plan will act like a pledge MPs can make to state their commitment to effective legislation to cut plastic pollution. It contains three commitments:

  • Now: Begin phasing out unneeded plastics, making exceptions for essential uses such as in medicine and those vital to the quality of life of disabled people.

  • ASAP: End pollution from hard-to-replace plastics (like from car tyres, clothing etc).

  • Aim for near zero plastic pollution by 2042 (this coincides with the end of the Conservative Party’s 25-year Environment Plan which pledges to end the use of ‘avoidable’ plastic).

Crucially, the Action Plan must be backed up by legislation as that’s the only way we can be sure the full power of this and future governments will be brought to bear on tackling the many sources of plastic pollution.

If enough MPs pledge their support this will pressure the government to passing legislation supporting our Action Plan. Some may respond that the government is already acting on plastic though so we need to be clear that we are asking them to stand up for the Action Plan backed by legislation.

How we could win

We’re looking to build a group of at least 20 MPs to publicly support the Action Plan between now and January 2019.

We want 20 MPs at this stage because we have a very big opportunity to influence a piece of legislation which will come into force next year called the Environment Bill. The Environment Bill is the legislation that the government must produce for when the UK leaves the European Union, which says which laws we will keep or adopt to protect our environment. We know the Environment bill will feature plastic pollution but very likely won’t do so strongly enough. The government could legislate for the Action Plan in the Environment bill so you could ask your MP if he or she would lobby the government to put it there.

How getting your MP on board could help bring about a change in the law on plastics.

Local groups and activists are the best placed people to get their MPs on board. Getting a meeting with an MP face to face is by far the most effective way to persuade them, followed by letters, emails and social media.

Between now and January 2019, we’d like lots of local groups to pay visits to their MPs.

This is a special opportunity to work together to contribute to some real change to halt plastic pollution.

Write to edward.burke@foe.co.uk if you’d like to visit your MP.