Green co-leader Caroline Lucas says she hopes to build a cross-party coalition to stop bottle wastage, while other correspondents offer their thoughts on protecting the environment
June 30, 2017 — The Guardian’s coverage of the global plastic bottle crisis (Surge in plastic bottle use sparks global alert, 29 June) has been powerful and compelling. Like so many of the environmental challenges we face, this issue has been largely ignored in the mainstream, which has led us to the extraordinary situation where we have one million bottles being bought every minute globally. Britain’s contribution to this problem is significant. We use a staggering 38.5m plastic bottles each day, accounting for roughly 40% of the litter found in our environment along with cans. We’ve all read in horror the stories of whales’ stomachs filled with plastic waste, and we’ve all seen bottles littering our local communities.
The government must take responsibility for this growing crisis. One easy step forward would be to introduce a bottle deposit scheme. Such systems were commonplace in the UK until the 1980s, and are used in 11 other European countries. The concept is simple: you pay a small deposit on bottles and take them back to the shop you bought them from after use for recycling. The Scottish government has taken a major step towards introducing such a scheme – now the Tories must follow suit. We should also be ensuring that it’s easier for people to refill water bottles in shops and other businesses. This week has shown that the government is far more pliant towards the will of parliament than previously, and I’m hoping to build a cross-party coalition on this issue in the coming weeks so that Britain becomes a world leader in tackling plastic bottle pollution.
Caroline Lucas MP
Co-leader, Green party of England and Wales
• It is not just bottles and carrier bags – 99% of my non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste is plastic wrappers from supermarkets. It is time to force our supermarkets to stop using plastic. If not, they should lose our custom. Plastic-free July challenge anyone?
High Peak, Derbyshire
• Unfortunately it is not as simple as putting an empty plastic bottle into a recycling bin. Manufacturers are increasingly putting thin plastic wrappers around plastic bottles. Details of the contents are printed onto the wrapper instead of directly on the bottle. The advantage to the manufacturer is that they can use a generic plastic bottle for several, or many, different contents. Unfortunately using such a wrapper renders the bottle not recyclable. Instead, the sorting machine classifies wrapped bottles as “mixed materials” and they are sent to landfill not to be reused.
This, then, is a plea to manufacturers to stop using plastic wrappers on plastic bottles. Perhaps government intervention will be required to make all plastic bottles recyclable.
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
• Italy is responding to the plastic bottle problem by installing refill stations in many towns. Water costs 5 cents a litre and there’s a choice of still or sparkling. They’re heavily used, judging by our experiences in Carloforte, Sardinia.
• Immediately after a full-page item on the danger to the planet of plastic bottles comes a full-page M&S ad offering free water with any sandwich, salad and crisps.
• In response to the article (Taxpayer cost of dismantling North Sea rigs rises by billions, 29 June), the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has a chance to extend the life of some of the UK’s offshore assets by reusing some of the infrastructure for carbon capture and storage (CCS). There are opportunities for carbon dioxide to be permanently stored in depleted oil and gas fields, thereby helping to meet UK climate goals, extending the life of certain offshore assets, reducing the cost of decommissioning and helping to retain jobs.
Only this week the Committee on Climate Change, in its 2017 progress report to parliament, reaffirmed the importance of CCS to ensuring the lowest cost route to meeting the UK’s 2050 emissions reduction target. Claire Perry, the new minister of state for climate change and industry, has confirmed that the government’s much-delayed Clean Growth Plan will be published this autumn. This must include a new approach to CCS which brings much-needed confidence to the industry and at the same time gives the OGA a strong mandate to consider CCS as part of a wider asset-retention strategy.
The Carbon Capture and Storage Association
• Deloitte, the firm that undertook the economic valuation of the Great Barrier Reef (Recognising the values that money can’t measure, 29 June), was one of a group of accountancy firms unleashed on Britain’s public sector in the late 1980s by the Thatcher government. Since when, with New Labour’s collusion, our public services (at least what’s left of them) have been overwhelmed by bean counters and box tickers. It’s called performance management but in reality it means that what counts is what can be counted and if it can’t be counted then it doesn’t count. So much for qualities like thoughtfulness, kindness, compassion and responsiveness which should lie at the heart of the user’s experience of health and social care but which can’t be measured.
The drive to quantify (and then commodify) all aspects of life has masked the spread of a culture of uncare that permeates our relations with non-human nature as much as our relations with each other. And, as your editorial indicates, this applies even when the attempt to quantify is driven by a benign intent, as with the Barrier Reef. Quantification turns what should be sacred into something profane because what really counts for our life on this earth is precisely what cannot be counted.
Chair, Climate Psychology Alliance
• I was heartened to read your editorial and recognise that it exposes a fundamental flaw in human society. The sad truth is that many of our environmentally concerned people and organisations find they have to talk the language of “ecosystem services”, whereby they try to put a price on the natural world in terms of its benefit to us. They do this because there is no tradition of thought in western society that gives nature value in itself. None of our great philosophical or religious traditions have clearly articulated a value for nature or of human beings as creaturely participants in the natural world. They have focused instead on human beings as “above and in contrast to nature” and therefore to be served by it. This is the deep cause of climate change and one that desperately needs addressing if, as you say, we are to “unbleach” our souls.
• You have had a number of articles over the last few months about private contractor Amey’s felling of trees in Sheffield and Patrick Barkham has written about the importance of the trees and their sad loss. Now local residents have learned that a surviving elm tree in Chelsea Road, Brincliffe, which they thought Amey had agreed to leave, is to be felled after all, despite their campaign to save it. The tree is of national importance not only as an old elm but also because it provides a home for a colony of rare white-letter hairstreak butterflies. Is there nothing that can be done to stop the Amey steamroller? If not, let other councils beware and learn the lesson of Sheffield: do not use Amey to maintain your roads!