How to roll back Wales’s plastic addiction

(Title Image: The Independent)

This week’s short debate focused on a topic which moved to the front of the national consciousness following Blue Planet II: plastic waste.

Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) cited research which suggests that if you lined up all the polystyrene cups made in a single day, they would encircle the Earth. The world’s population is expected to produce around 640million tonnes of plastic a year by 2034 and 8 million pieces of plastic get into the ocean every day.

In his own constituency, concerned citizens and other organisations are working to make Caerphilly a plastic-free county. Caerphilly Council has established a special group to consider the issue of “problematic plastics” – however, we could learn from countries which go further:

“In 2015, a video of a marine biologist pulling plastic from the nose of a sea turtle went viral in Costa Rica…..Since then, Costa Rica’s gained a reputation for being eco-friendly and powered itself on 100% renewable energy for two-thirds of the year in 2016. Costa Rica’s next aim is to become the first country to ban all single-use plastics by 2021, including cutlery, bottles and bags. To meet this very ambitious deadline, the Government are offering incentives to businesses as well as researching alternatives to single-use plastics.”
– Hefin David AM

Other options include a “producer responsibility” where the producer of plastic goods is responsible for recovering and recycling them, an often-mentioned deposit-return scheme and a possible levy on disposable plastic cups.

“But the place and perceived importance of plastic to us all is demonstrated by the fact that we nearly all have plastic pens with us today, and is demonstrated by the fact that 60 per cent—I’ve probably got three—of the kerbside recycling picked up by Caerphilly council is plastic. Although it is, of course, good news that this plastic is being recycled, the best way to reduce our waste is not to purchase or use it in the first place.”
– Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn)

Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) hoped that future marine laws will end the use of plastic fishing tackle to reduce plastics in the oceans. David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) recently brought a deposit return machine for AMs to try out, proving they were “easy to use”.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) offered a glum but sobering assessment – “If we eat fish, we’re eating plastic”.

Everyone has a role to play

Replying on behalf of the government, Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn) said it would need to be a collective effort to reduce plastic waste, from individuals, through to councils and the Welsh Government.

A number of pilots are due to take place:

“…. a number of these are focussing on a more appropriate use of plastic, with one aimed at reducing plastic in the food supply chain, and another two are trialling a switch from plastic to glass milk bottles in schools. And I’m pleased that the Waste and Resources Action Programme are working with us, assessing the implications of the different materials on cost, end users and suppliers. The results of these pilots will be shared with other local authorities to encourage similar behavioural change.”
– Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn

The Deputy Minister confirmed the Welsh Government are also working with UK and Scottish counterparts to introduce new UK-wide regulations on plastic packaging and producer responsibility. The Welsh Government are also actively considering a single-use plastic tax.

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