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The ‘Blue Planet effect’ kick-starts focus on plastic use in UK but Brexit and funding challenges remain.

Posted on Jan 24, 2018 6:22:00 PM

A turtle trapped in plastic on Blue Planet II (Pic courtesdy of BBC) "In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.”

For our British readers the past month has seen a steady stream of positive news stories relating to how business is responding to growing sustainability questions. It seemed to have been kick-started by the BBC nature documentary series, Blue Planet II which has probably done more to highlight the problem of plastic in our seas to the public than anything else. Filming took place over the course of more than four years; involving 125 expeditions across 39 countries producing more than 6,000 hours of underwater dive footage from over an estimated 4000 dives. And the team behind the programme, say there was rarely a time when they were filming that they didn't come across plastic in the sea.

Such was the effect it had on the team, they devoted a whole episode of the series, shown at the end of 2017, on how plastic affects sea creatures. It included startling footage of a hawksbill turtle getting caught up in a plastic sack. Fortunately this turtle was able to escape with the help of a camera man, but most animals are not that lucky.

"I have seen dead birds with their legs entangled in plastic bags, so they could have died from not being able to feed or fly. I saw a dead leatherback turtle that died from entanglement in fishing rope” said Sarah Conner, assistant producer on the programme.

They also spent time focussing on how tiny plastic particles (microplastics) now play a role in the uptake of industrial pollution in marine life, contributing to high levels of chemical contamination in large predators, as in pilot whales. The team also saw plastic in the regurgitated pellets of Albatross chicks on South Georgia. "Their parents must have picked up plastic backs at sea, thinking they were edible, and have fed them to their young," says James Honeyborne. "One chick had died from a plastic toothpick that had pierced its stomach."

It’s a fantastic series, and showcases the wonder and magic of our ocean world along with the immense damage that we are doing to it. I’d recommending taking some time to view some of the videos on the BBC Nature YouTube channel.

The Blue Planet effect, has kick started a host of developments since Christmas in the UK: 

The Iceland supermarket chain announced on the 16th January it would stop plastic packaging on its own brand products by 2023.

“On plastics, customers currently don’t have a choice and we want to give them one. All of them. We’re a mass market value retailer, but we don’t think that concern for the environment is confined to those who can afford to shop at Whole Foods or Waitrose. Our consumer research supports this belief, with 80% of those interviewed saying that they would support a supermarket that decided to go plastic-free.” – Dave Walker, Director for Sustainability at Iceland ( @IcelandRichard explaining their reasoning in this insightful statement.

Whilst another supermarket, Waitrose, also announced on the 16 that they would stop selling packs of disposable straws from September 2018. This builds on its track-record for being the first supermarket to stop selling items containing microbeads from September 2016 and switching exclusively to paper-stem cotton buds. Plastic straws will be replaced by non-plastic alternatives. They also confirmed they would no longer use black plastic for its meat, fish, fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, and that all Waitrose products would be free of black plastic by the end of 2019. Black plastic cannot be recycled under current UK systems.

Meet brands likes Patgonia, H&M, LEGO and others investing in bio-based solutions at World Bio Markets, Amsterdam, 20th-22nd March 2018. Our early bird ends THIS FRIDAY (26th January, so book now to pay the lowest possible cost for your ticket. 

British PM Theresa May ( @theresa_may ) has this month also publically committed to the UK eliminating all “avoidable” plastic waste by 2042 as she launches the Government’s environmental plan for the next 25-years. Under the pledge waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished.

This will be executed through a string of measures – working with supermarkets to encourage them to introduce plastic-free aisles in which all the food is loose, allowing shoppers to use their own bags and packaging, The Government will also encourage industry to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and make them easier to recycle.

Ms May stated: “We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do. In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.”

London’s principal newspaper, the Evening Standard has also this month launched a campaign, The Last Straw, to reduce and ideally stop the use of disposable plastic straws in London’s eateries and bars. Alread Huge high street chains have already committed to alternatives thanks to our campaign, including Itsu, Crussh, Wagamama and Leon. And high-end restaurants like Sexy Fish, Franco Manca, the Michelin-starred Galvin restaurants, The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel have also vowed to ditch plastic straws.

London Evening Standard Front Page - Launcing the Last Straw Campaign.

Whilst disposable coffee cups, notoriously hard to recycle due to being made with a combination of paper and plastic may soon be the subject of a so called “latte levy” per cup of 25p. This would be an addition to the regular price and help to fund recycling and reprocessing systems. This cause has been taken up by a committee of MPs at Westminster who were told that the UK throws away 2.5bn coffee cups each year. A similar plan is also being considered at the Welsh Assembly.

But as with everything in the UK currently, the issue of Brexit has reared its head.

Greener UK a coalition of environmental organisations tracking Brexit, in their latest Brexit Risk Tracker has found few signs that the environment is a priority for the UK Government in negotiations with Brussels. This concern is matched on a national level. The coalition, which includes the likes of Friends of the Earth and the Green Alliance, warns that a forum of UK and devolved government ministers responsible for planning Brexit has so far demonstrated “little commitment” to adopt common frameworks to protect the environment.

Greener UK chair and Green Alliance executive director Shaun Spiers ( @ShaunSpiers1 ) said: “There are serious concerns about the level of future co-operation between the UK government and the EU, and the impact this will have on issues such as climate change and air quality. We also fear there is a lack of willpower to ensure high standards across the UK when we lose the common frameworks currently provided by the EU.”

And whilst Theresa May is announcing the above plans for 2042, WRAP - one of the main bodies charged with reducing it - of the loss of around 25 jobs, a tenth of its staff, after years of budget cuts from Government.

WRAP chief executive Marcus Gover ( @MarcusGover ) said the organisation had little choice but to make cost saving - "We are in an environment where there is continued pressure on public spending, as well as ongoing economic uncertainty, and WRAP is not immune to that."

Stephanie Hilborne ( @stephhilborne )  chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, who manage thousands of nature reserves and run marine conservation projects around the UK. told the Independent; "There are fantastic words and ambitions for land and sea that raise the spirits – but the lack of legal underpinning is a fundamental flaw,” Ms Hilborne added an ambitious Environment Act will be necessary in the next Parliament if the new plan is to have any significance.


You may also be interested in... 

Read: Ecover launches bottle made from 50% ocean plastic. 

Read: New report reveals fashion industry puts equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles into the ocean every year.

Attend: World Bio Markets, Amsterdam, March 20th-22nd 2018.

Feature: Industry experts give their thoughts on three key questions for the bio-based industry in 2018. 

Download: Issue #8 of the Bio-Based World Quarterly.   


 

Topics: BBWNBrands, Plastics and Packaging, Environment

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About the Author

Luke Upton
Luke Upton
Luke is the editor and co-founder of Bio-Based World has edited this site since its launch and previously worked for b2b media companies across industries including energy, advertising and sport. His ...read more